WASHINGTON - Nell Hennessy and Joseph Grant are being cited repeatedly by insiders as candidates for executive director of the PBGC, following the death of Martin Slate.
While most observers expected Ms. Hennessy, now deputy executive director and chief negotiator, to vie for the post, Mr. Grant is a new contender. He is deputy executive director and chief operating officer at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
Both declined to comment.
It might take months before the position is filled, mostly because a new secretary of labor has not been chosen. The Senate Labor Committee is expected to hold hearings on the nomination of secretary-designate Alexis Herman, former White House public liaison director, March 18.
Other candidates for the PBGC job might surface once a labor secretary is confirmed. It's possible the White House might come up with its own suggestion.
The two candidates have different backgrounds, but both are qualified for the position, many agree. While Ms. Hennessy has much technical experience, Mr. Grant has an extensive political background.
Ms. Hennessy has been deputy executive director since May 1993, and was a key player in representing the PBGC's interests with financially troubled corporations. Ms. Hennessy, some say, might have the edge because of her 19 years as an attorney, including two years at the Internal Revenue Service. She also was rumored to be Mr. Slate's pick for the job.
"Nell has quite unique, hands-on, practical experience," said Phyllis Borzi, of counsel at the Washington law offices of O'Donoghue & O'Donoghue and former pension counsel for the House Labor-Management Relations subcommittee. "She has common sense, and understands the program. She's smart and tough - which is what you need in that position."
Ms. Hennessy also specialized in pensions, health and other employee benefits in private practice as a partner at the Washington law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher.
Mr. Grant began as special assistant to the director of corporate policy and research at the PBGC in 1995, and moved into his current position in January 1996. He has been responsible for different tasks at the PBGC, including planning, directing and implementing many agency programs. Prior to his work at the agency, Mr. Grant worked for now-retired Rep. J.J. Pickle, D-Texas, for 13 years. He was a key player in developing the Retirement Protection Act of 1994, which increased contribution rates and premium fees for certain underfunded private defined benefit pension plans. Mr. Grant is well known within Washington for his great care in developing responsive public policy solutions.
Sources describe him as having a high degree of integrity and a long history of caring about the PBGC and its direction.
"Joe is a great person," said one source who asked not to be named. "He knows how to deal with different issues and work them through the political process. He's known for having creative solutions to problems."