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THE FIRST RULE of reinventing government, says Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. Executive Director David Strauss, is to identify your customers and then try to win them over.

Mr. Strauss and the PBGC, we are pleased to see, are trying to do just that.

The PBGC's customers, Mr. Strauss correctly observes, are not just participants in pension plans the agency insures or has taken over, but also employers with defined benefit plans who pay the PBGC more than $1 billion in premiums annually to support the agency's termination insurance program.

They, too, have a right to good service, and Mr. Strauss, who joined the PBGC this summer after nearly four years as deputy chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore-a champion of reinventing government-is helping to see that they get it.

Last month, for example, the PBGC trimmed back a premium audit program in a way that will reduce administrative burdens on employers while still protecting the fiscal integrity of a vital program.

The PBGC had been requiring employers targeted for audits to supply six years of premium-related information. That information then is used to determine if employers had paid the correct amount of premiums.

Pension plan information from six years ago can be difficult and expensive for employers to obtain, a fact the PBGC now recognizes. In a common-sense move, employers targeted for premium audits now will have to provide three years of records. Only if auditors find problems in those last three years of information will they ask employers for records going back further.

That makes sense to us. Why automatically force an employer to go back years to try to retrieve information if its recent premium-paying track record is spotless?

Similarly, we applaud PBGC efforts, as we report this week, to give employers terminating pension plans more reasonable deadlines to complete various parts of the termination process.

At the same time, while we were initially skeptical, on reflection we think Mr. Strauss has made a convincing argument for killing the PBGC's annual list of the 50 worst-funded corporate pension plans.

That list was conceived in 1990, a time when the agency's financial outlook-due to loopholes in federal law that made it relatively easy for employers to underfund their pension plans-was bleak. That exposed the PBGC to big losses when employers went out of business and terminated their pension plans. The fear of the adverse publicity generated by being on such a list would encourage employers to put more money into their pension plans, said PBGC officials, who back in 1990 had few weapons to boost plan funding.

But the law has changed. Employers with underfunded plans now have to accelerate contributions to those plans, while employees must be informed of funding shortfalls. The Top 50 list, which angered many employers, has become, as Mr. Strauss puts it, obsolete.

Viewing employers as customers, as Mr. Strauss does, is a refreshing attitude and one we hope other government officials come to adopt.

We think many of the debacles we've seen over the years-hopelessly complex pension and health care plan non-discrimination rules and the totally unnecessary Medicare Data Bank, just to name a few particularly stupid government initiatives later repealed or withdrawn-could have been avoided to begin with if more government officials viewed employers as customers.

We can only hope the PBGC's welcome example will encourage that in other government agencies.