PBGC names Richmond pension fund chief to lead benefits unit

Philip R. Langham was named director of the PBGC's benefits and payments department, Director Joshua Gotbaum announced at a news briefing Wednesday. The agency also created the new position of director of quality management.

Mr. Langham replaces Bennie Hagans, who retired earlier this year.

The position is part of efforts by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. to beef up the department's asset-valuation expertise, Mr. Gotbaum said.

Mr. Langham was executive director of the $500 million Richmond (Va.) Retirement System. Mr. Langham's duties at the PBGC include hiring experts to help the department get a better handle on assets of pension funds the agency takes over. Mr. Langham noted at a news briefing that the growth of alternative assets like hedge funds and private equity has increased the need for pension valuation specialists, as well as data managers, auditors and people experienced in ERISA compliance.

Mr. Langham estimated that the department will grow from a current staff of four to 10 or more.

“What we started with was no specialists at all,” Mr. Gotbaum said. “This is a new approach in a new unit.”

Diane Braunstein, former Social Security Administration associate commissioner, will oversee the newly created quality management department, which will develop performance benchmarks for the benefits department and other divisions, along with best practices.

The changes stem from a strategic review of the benefits department launched last year, spurred by critical reports from the Office of Inspector General that contractors involved in asset valuations of pension funds taken over by the agency, including United Airlines, were inaccurate and poorly supervised.

“The primary sloppiness was that the contractors accepted the word of the trustees. What we found was that trustees sometimes had stale numbers. They should have dug deeper, so we've created a new specialized team to do this,” Mr. Gotbaum said at the briefing. He added that while the benefit payment shortages were minimal, “the fact is that it undermines the confidence of everyone who gets PBGC benefits.”

At the Richmond Retirement System, Natasha Neagu, the pension fund's deputy director, is serving as interim executive director while the board of trustees conducts a search. Details are available on the city of Richmond's website.