WASHINGTON — With Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and the Department of Labor bearing down on them, benefits industry lobbyists and attorneys expect new disclosure reforms this year that could put a damper on fees assessed to manage defined benefit and defined contribution plans.
Fees associated with administering retirement benefit plans are at the top of this year's federal government's policy agenda because Mr. Miller — who officially stepped in as chairman of the influential House Education and the Workforce Committee on Jan. 4 — is concerned that excessive charges might be cheating plan participants of investment returns for their retirements.
"You seem to have a lot of people who in some cases appear to be somewhat fast and loose with other people's money," Mr. Miller said in an interview with Pensions & Investments. "I think we have an obligation to ask: Are the employees getting a fair shake here?"
Benefits industry officials said the Labor Department this year is also expected to establish sanctioned default investment options for defined contribution plans with automatic enrollment and set ground rules for financial firms offering investment advice to 401(k) plan participants.
Industry fees have been under Labor Department scrutiny for the past several years, and the department has signaled it favors some additional disclosure.
From his new bully pulpit as chairman of the key congressional committee that oversees the Department of Labor, Mr. Miller is expected to hold the department's feet to the fire on the issue.
"He's going to push them (DOL) to make sure that they work fast and do the things he wants them to do," said Bill Sweetnam, a partner at The Groom Law Group, Washington, and a former benefits tax counsel at the Treasury Department.
Labor Department spokesman Peter Hong declined comment.