EBSA Protects Record Number of Assets in 2004

October 21, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com)—Ann Combs, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security, today announced, during a conference call, that the Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) recovered and protected $3.1 billion in retirement, health and other benefits for American workers in fiscal year 2004, a 121% increase over recoveries during fiscal year 2003.

The bulk of the money ($2.53 billion) was labeled as coming from p rohibited transactions corrected and plan assets protected, while smaller portions $323.9 million and $264.6 million were categorized as Plan Assets Restored and Participant Benefits Recovered and recoveries from the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program, respectively.    Additionally, Combs said the majority of the money recovered is attributable to pension and retirement plans, compared to the health and welfare plans.

Combs said the $3.1 billion does not include the money paid to participants in the Enron and WorldCom settlements because EBSA was not directly involved in that litigation.   These cases were carried out in private litigation, Combs asserted, to maximize the money recovered by the public.

During fiscal year 2004, of the 4,399 civil investigations EBSA closed, about 70%, 3,056 were closed with results, meaning corrections of violations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Combs reported.   Criminal investigations led to the indictment of 121 individuals and the closing of 62 criminal investigations with guilty pleas or convictions.

Combs said that EBSA will continue its strong enforcement of ERISA, ensuring that 401(k) contributions are getting deposited in a timely fashion, as well as making sure that employees are paying reasonable and fair fees for their plans, and seeing that participants can receive benefits when companies go bankrupt as well.  

EBSA focused this year on compliance assistance, Combs said, emphasizing two programs: the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VCFP), in which employers and plan officials can voluntarily correct specific violations of the law, as well as the fiduciary education program, “Getting it Right.”   During 2004, EBSA received a record 474 applications for its fiduciary correction program, an increase over the 240 received in fiscal year 2003, a more than 98% increase in usage.   These applications brought in $264.6 million restored to employee benefit plans in 2004, up from $8.7 collected in 2003, Combs said.

In a press release Combs said, “Over the course of the Bush Administration, EBSA’s commitment to protection of health and retirement security has resulted in positive results for millions of American workers, retirees and their families. In the last four years, we have achieved record results each year, totaling $6.1 billion and 479 criminal indictments. This year’s dramatic statistics are the result of our continued tough enforcement program and a comprehensive program of compliance assistance activities. In this way, we work to help plan sponsors voluntarily comply with the law, while targeting the agency’s resources at the worst offenders.”

EBSA covers over 730,000 private retirement plans and six million private health and welfare plans, including more than 150 million participants and $4.3 trillion in assets in retirement plans, according to Combs.