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Robert Nagle, a long-time pension policymaker and regulator, died Saturday at his home in McLean, Virginia. Mr. Nagle, 84, had been battling cancer.
In the 1970s, Mr. Nagle, as general counsel for the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, played a key role in drafting sections of what became the nation's seminal pension law: the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.
From 1979 to 1982, Mr. Nagle was executive director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a federal agency created by ERISA, with a mandate of guaranteeing pension plan participants' vested benefits when their employers went out of business or could no longer afford to fund the plans.
Mr. Nagle was among the first to warn of the huge financial exposure the PBGC could face and the resulting big hikes in PBGC premiums paid by employers if major companies folded their pension plans and the PBGC took over the plans.
At the time of his prescient warnings in 1984, the agency's deficit was just under $500 million, with employers paying an annual premium of $2.60 per pension plan participant.
Last year, the deficit, fueled by the agency's numerous multi-billion dollar takeovers in recent years of pension plans sponsored by such companies as Bethlehem Steel Corp., Delphi Corp., and United Airlines, topped $27 billion. As the deficit soared, so have PBGC premiums paid by employers to help pay benefits of participants in those failed plans. The current so-called flat-rate PBGC premium now is $49 per plan participant, while employers with underfunded plans pay an additional premium of $14 per $1,000 of plan underfunding.
After Mr. Nagle left the PBGC, he practiced pension law and also was an arbitrator and later a Fellow at the Pension Rights Center in Washington.
“There were few people in our field as knowledgeable or as wise as Bob, and no one ever had a kinder heart,” Norman Stein a senior policy advisor at the Pension Rights Center and a professor at Drexel University School of Law in Philadelphia said in a statement.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. guidance on how agency officials enforce pension liability rules cannot come soon enough for some pension plan sponsors and their advocates.