EBSA, in a written response to GAO, agreed with GAO's assessment of its budgetary challenges, but disagreed with the conclusion that the agency had not adequately documented its decision-making process.
Nevertheless, EBSA said it could "better document the resource planning process in ways to increase transparency. With GAO's report and recommendations in mind, EBSA will review its current documentation process and implement appropriate changes."
From 2013 to 2021, EBSA's annual appropriations generally remained flat in nominal terms, but declined in inflation-adjusted terms, GAO found. Officials said that because the agency's base budget has been flat while expenses, including those from rising wages, have continued to increase, the agency increasingly relies on supplemental funds, GAO noted.
All the while, EBSA officials said that the agency has received many new responsibilities through legislation such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the CARES Act and the No Surprises Act of 2021, GAO found. Retirement security bills such as the SECURE Act, passed in 2019, and SECURE 2.0, passed in December, have also added projects to EBSA's plate.
Meanwhile, EBSA has seen a reduction in staff. Specifically, EBSA officials noted it experienced a decline of over 180 full-time employees in 2021 from its peak level of roughly 980 full-time employees in 2013, the report said.
GAO also found that EBSA does not have a clear and systematic process for reallocating resources.
EBSA is responsible for overseeing an estimated 2.8 million health plans, 765,000 private retirement plans, and 619,000 other welfare benefit plans, covering approximately 153 million workers, retirees, and their families.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, requested the GAO report and said in a statement that it underscores the consequences of a decade of underfunding that has left EBSA without the resources it needs. "EBSA's oversight responsibilities expand to advance our shared, bipartisan priorities, we should be making the investments in EBSA that reflect our commitment to ensuring access to affordable health care coverage and secure retirement benefits," he said.