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GAO Finds Weaknesses in Electronic Retirement Document Disclosure Requirements

Harkin and Miller ask GAO to more fully examine employer practices and whether they work for employees

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Participants of employer-sponsored retirement plans may not be getting access to important plan documents because of confusing and contradictory rules regarding electronic records disclosures, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in a report released by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA). Harkin and Miller also asked GAO to dig deeper into employer practices regarding electronic disclosures and whether these practices work for plan participants.

“The ultimate purpose of the [federal pension law] disclosure requirements is to ensure that participants can access information about their pension plans when they need it in order to help them make informed decisions about their retirement. To this end, efforts to facilitate the broader use of electronic delivery must be accompanied by efforts to safeguard participants’ right to receive paper disclosures, if they so choose,” GAO wrote. “In addition, participants defaulted into electronic delivery may have few opportunities to express their preferences for how they receive plan information, increasing the risk that they will not get information in a way that best serves their needs.”

GAO recommends that the Departments of Labor and Treasury, the agencies that issue rules regarding electronic disclosures for retirement plans, clarify who can receive automatic electronic disclosure and how participants can more easily get those documents at a later date if requested.

“We should do everything we can to ensure that consumers have easy-to-understand, readily accessible information about their employer-sponsored retirement plans,” said Harkin, who is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “That means clearing up any confusion under the law so that documents do not slip through the cracks.  Americans need all the information they can get about their retirement plans so they make sound decisions about their future.”

“Technology has opened the door to new methods of communication that should benefit workers and employers,” said Rep. Miller, the senior Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “Unfortunately, GAO found that rules on electronic disclosure aren’t clear and participants can easily miss important documents that they need to read. Agencies need to clear up any confusion and ensure workers are getting important documents in a way they prefer.”

Read the GAO report here.