Enron Hearings Proliferate on Hill

January 23, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Forget about the Super Bowl, the emergence of Puxatawny Phil or Valentine's Day, when Congress reconvenes today the nation's legislators will be turning their attention to Enron.

Already Congress has scheduled no fewer than six hearings over the next month to attempt to unravel the details behind the nation’s largest bankruptcy.  Hearings that could have a sweeping impact on retirement plans, accounting practices and securities disclosures.

The December 2 bankruptcy filing of the former energy trading giant has left 5,000 former workers without a job – and many of those with 401(k) plans nearly wiped out by the plunge in the company stock value.  The company was once ranked as the seventh largest company in America – and was top performing stock in the S&P 500 in 2001

This Week

The House Energy Committee will kick off the first session tomorrow at 9.30am EST, focusing on the alleged destruction of documents sought by investigators at Enron and its auditor, Arthur Andersen.

Also on Thursday morning, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee , chaired by Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) will focus on pension rules, investor confidence, derivatives trading and the energy market.

That session is auspiciously titled “The Fall of Enron: How Could It Have Happened?”  Witnesses will include former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt and former SEC Chief Accountant Lynn Turner. 

Week of January 28

On January 29, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) will address ‘Impact of Enron Collapse on Energy Markets’.  The session will also be webcast , and will include testimony about energy markets from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Pat Wood and other regulators.

That same afternoon, the House Energy and Commerce Committee , chaired by Representative Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) will convene to take opening statements for a full hearing the next day.  The January 30 hearing will focus on Enron and its relationship with Andersen.

Week of February 4

Most-anticipated by the media is likely to be the appearance of Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay before the Senate Commerce Committee  chaired by Senator Ernest Hollings (D-South Carolina). 

However, later that week the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will convene on issues that loom large to plan sponsors – pensions, 401(k) plans and investor protection.  That committee hearing, chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) is scheduled for February 7.

The House Education and the Work Force Committee , chaired by Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), has set a tentative initial hearing in a series beginning the week of February 4 to focus on oversight of retirement plan laws.

Week of February 12

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland) will hear from five former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairmen, Arthur Levitt, Richard Breeden, David Ruder, Harold Williams and Roderick Hills, on accounting and investor protection issues.

Other Investigations

In addition to the above, several other congressional panels are probing the Enron affair, but have not firmly established dates for public hearings, including:

  • the Senate Finance Committee, which is investigating Enron’s compliance with tax laws,
  • the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is looking into ties between Enron and Andersen, and
  • the House Financial Services Committee, which is focusing on the impact on 401(k) plans, as well as commodities markets, and potential securities fraud and accounting irregularities

In addition to the congressional inquiries, the Justice Department is currently conducting a criminal probe of Enron and its activities.  The SEC and the Department of Labor are also investigating.