If there's one thing plan sponsors can agree on, it's the importance of consistency, especially when it comes to the regulation of retirement plans.
A new Department of Labor secretary with a background in ERISA, combined with a recent reorganization of the Employee Benefits Security Administration, could bring more needed guidance and uniformity in how regulations are enforced, legal experts said.
Eugene Scalia was sworn in as labor secretary on Sept. 30. A day later, on Oct. 1, EBSA created a new position of deputy assistant secretary to oversee the regional offices.
Historically, EBSA regional offices have had their own identities and priorities, but uniform operation among offices would bring more clarity to plan sponsors, particularly when it comes to audits of plans with missing terminated vested participants.
ERISA attorneys say audits take longer at certain regional offices and the questions can vary.
As the DOL has stepped up its enforcement and called for a greater emphasis from plan sponsor administrators on locating missing participants, consistent regional office processes can only be beneficial. The next step should be further guidance on exactly what plan sponsors need to do with missing participants to fulfill their fiduciary obligations.
The Labor Department has several regulatory projects in the works, including a new rule on electronic disclosures to retirement plan participants; a new fiduciary rule that likely will complement the Securities and Exchange Commission's best-interest standard; and the further implementation of its final rule on association retirement plans, which narrowly expanded the use of open multiple employer plans and went into effect Sept. 30.
In his September confirmation hearings, Mr. Scalia pledged to work toward striking the right balance with the Securities and Exchange Commission on fiduciary duty regulations.
As he begins his new role, retirement plan sponsors will be watching. They are hungry for help in navigating the complexities of ERISA and in complying with its requirements. Increased guidance from the department and more consistency in enforcement would be welcome developments, indeed.