OIG Report Pressures EBSA To Finalize ERISA Fiduciary Investment Advice Rule & Repeal or Restrict Small Scope Audit Rule

Employee benefit plan sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries and the banks, insurers and other service providers involved in the investment or management of plan assets that currently rely upon existing Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) limited scope audit regulations to avoid the expense and other burdens of conducting full scale audits of certain employee benefit plan assets held by banks, insurers and certain other regulated entities should watch for EBSA proposals to repeal or tighten these regulations in response to recommendations in a new report published by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG) .   If adopted by the EBSA, plans sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries could expect to incur significant increases in the annual audit expenses of their employee benefit plans, banks, insurers and other organizations currently covered by the small scope audit exception could expect greater scrutiny and expenses when dealing with employee benefit plan accounts, and all of these parties could expect greater fiduciary risk and other compliance obligations.

Repealing or tightening the EBSA limited scope audit regulations and finalizing proposed conflict of interest rules  are two key recommendations that OIG urges EBSA to adopt to strengthen its ability to fulfill its mission to protect the security of retirement, health, and other private‐sector employer‐sponsored benefit plans for America’s workers, retirees, and their families in the Top Management Challenges Facing the Department of Labor report (Report) just released by the OIG.

While ERISA generally requires plan asset audits on most employee benefit plan assets, the small scope audit rule of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) currently authorizes so‐called “limited scope audits” for plan assets held in certain banks, insurance companies and certain other qualifying entities under the presumption that these organizations and their actions with respect to the assets are being audited by other entities for other purposes.  As a result, the independent public accountants that conduct their audits express “no opinion” on the financial statements of the assets they hold on behalf of plans.

According to the OIG Report, this small scope audit rule inappropriately challenges EBSA’s oversight efforts by allowing as much as $3.3 billion in pension assets held in otherwise regulated entities, such as banks to “escape audit scrutiny.” The Report states, “These limited scope audits weaken assurances to stakeholders and may put retirement plan assets at risk because they provide little or no confirmation regarding the existence or value of plan assets.

In addition to attacking the small scope audit rule, OIG also urges EBSA to finalize its long awaited rules defining prohibited conflicts of interest for parties and individuals providing investment advice to employee benefit plans that EBSA has been working on since 2010.  The so‐called “conflict of interest ‐‐ fiduciary investment advice rule” would broaden the definition of investment advice fiduciary for ERISA plans and individual retirement accounts to try to reduce the opportunities for financial conflicts of interest to compromise the impartiality of investment advice in the retirement savings marketplace.

Accordingly, the OIG Report concludes that EBSA should “concentrate on issuing final regulations on the so‐called “conflict of interest rule” and continue its work to obtain legislative changes repealing the limited‐scope audit exemption. In the interim, EBSA should continue to expand upon its existing authority to clarify and strengthen limited scope audit regulations and evaluate the ERISA Council’s recommendations on the issue.”

The OIG recommendations in the Report are likely to refuel pressure on EBSA to finalize the fiduciary investment advice rule and tighten or eliminate the small scope audit rule.  Since either or both of these actions would likely increase the expense and other responsibilities and risks associated with the investment and maintenance of employee benefit plan assets, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, banks, insurers, investment advisors and others involved in the investment or administration of employee benefit plans and their assets should both carefully monitor the response of the EBSA to the OIG recommendations and react promptly to provide feedback to help shape any changes to manage these costs and expenses.

About Author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

If you need help evaluating or monitoring the implications of these developments or reviewing or updating your health benefit program for compliance or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration.

Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.

For Added Information and Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For Help Or More Information

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, re-engineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters.Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see hereor contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com.

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©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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