The Employee Benefits Security Administration is slated to be reorganized Oct. 1 with the creation of another deputy assistant secretary position, but calls for delay are coming from Capitol Hill.
Preston Rutledge, the assistant secretary of labor who leads EBSA, told staff in an Aug. 27 email that the agency will soon have three deputy assistant secretaries who report directly to him instead of the two in place today. Additionally, oversight responsibilities will be allocated differently among the deputy assistant secretaries.
Two Democratic members of Congress with oversight over the agency have asked for an explanation of the change and have called for a delay until they get some answers
Traditionally, the two EBSA assistant secretaries were split between a political appointee and a member of the career staff. The new position — deputy assistant secretary for regional offices — will be filled by a career staffer, a Labor Department spokesman said in an email.
Regional offices have historically maintained significant independence, and regional directors have had wide latitude in opening investigations and interpreting the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to determine if there have been violations, according to a Groom Law Group brief.
David Levine, a Washington-based principal at Groom, said there could be some positives to come out of the reorganization. "Hopefully it can lead to increased consistency in enforcement positions and practical outcomes, such as solutions to the many ongoing missing participant investigations," he said.
Historically, EBSA regional offices have had their own identities, said Brian D. Netter, a Washington-based partner for Mayer Brown LLP. "The reorganization seems designed to create a more nationally uniform enforcement regime," he said. "In theory, a more centralized enforcement regime led by a career official could lead to more consistency in enforcement priorities across administrations. But it's too early to predict how any particular initiatives might be affected."