U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman suspended a policy ordering the Department of Energy to stop reimbursing expenses for defined benefit coverage for new government contractor employees.
Mr. Bodman ordered the suspension for one year and directed department staff "to consult with stakeholders, including Congress, to seek their input" on the issue, he wrote in a letter to Sen. Pete V. Domenici, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Mr. Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., "worked together to press the DOE to withdraw the proposed pension change," they said in a statement.
Two bills introduced May 11 - one in the Senate by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and one in the House by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. - would require the secretary of energy to rescind the policy and reinstate reimbursement of any benefits not funded.
"The department's accrued unfunded liability as reported ... in 2005 was $11.6 billion, an increase of 63% since 2000," Mr. Bodman noted in his letter.
Mr. Bodman said in the original April 27 announcement that the department "will reimburse (new) contractors for the costs of their market-based defined contribution pension plans (similar to 401(k)s) and market-based medical benefit plans" and not defined benefit pension and retiree benefit medical plans. "The new policy will improve the predictability of contractor benefit costs and mitigate the growth of the department's long-term liabilities for these costs."