It is hard to imagine the Employee Benefit Research Institute without Dallas Salisbury.
Mr. Salisbury said earlier this month that he will retire at the end of the year from the organization he helped launch in 1978, and where he was the first and only president and CEO. He then will assume the title of president emeritus.
In the meantime, an executive committee of EBRI's board of directors is narrowing its search for his replacement, and expects to announce a decision by July 1.
While speculation about such high-profile changes is a Washington pastime, EBRI's unique role as a trusted, neutral source of rigorous benefits research has many observers stumped about an acceptable successor.
One candidate who fits that bill is EBRI Research Director Jack VanDerhei. Other possible candidates suggested include longtime Senate aide Michael Kreps. Another is Leslie Kramerich, acting policy chief at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., who has served as an assistant secretary of Labor and worked at Mercer LLC.
Another possibility offered is J. Mark Iwry, deputy assistant secretary for retirement and health policy at the Treasury Department, highly regarded for his scholarly approach to benefit issues.
When asked if they were interested in the position, most declined to comment.
Still others speculate Mr. Salisbury's successor will come from an academic background. Unlike many Washington institutions that lobby for a specific point of view, an organization “that educates the nation” is a different matter, said Joshua Gotbaum, former director of the PBGC and now a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Considering that the head of EBRI has to have a broad understanding of benefits, a neutral position and a good public policy perspective, “maybe they should have a committee,” said Thomas Woodruff, director of health-care policy and benefit services in Connecticut's Office of the Comptroller. Mr. Woodruff, who directed a pension commission under President Jimmy Carter, often found himself in point/counterpoint discussions with Mr. Salisbury at the time. He continues to use EBRI research to show business and medical school students at the University of Connecticut how health economics and pension risk management work.
“It has to be someone as smart as Dallas,” said Ian Lanoff, a principal with Groom Law Group in Washington, the first administrator of what is now the Employee Benefits Security Administration at the Department of Labor. “It's really a tribute to him that he was able to build that out of nothing,” said Mr. Lanoff, who credits Mr. Salisbury with helping him navigate the bureaucracy.