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PBGC Blog: Retirement Matters

This entry is part of a series of blog posts that looks back and commemorates the agency's work.

PBGC 40th Anniversary Logo

The big blows are landed

The fight to save pensions intensified, as financial crisis led to broken promises and end-runs on pension security. Iconic companies moved to end pension security and the number of people served by PBGC continued to rise.

We started the decade with annual benefit payments to participants surpassing the $1 billion mark for the first time.

As 2001 started, PBGC took over two Trans World Airlines' pension plans. These plans covered 36,500 former workers and retirees and were underfunded by about $700 million. By the end of the year annual benefit payments by PBGC to participants surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time.

TWA was merely the first big blow of many that decade.

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This entry is part of a series of blog posts that looks back and commemorates the agency's work.

Early Program Warning cartoon. A tailor with PBGC on his shirt tells his customer 'A nip here... a tuck there.. and we'll be all set!' His customer has a suit jacket with 'Early Warning Program' written on it.

The Landscapes Shift

The intensity of our work began to widen and deepen, calling upon us to use our creative, financial and legal skills to find new ways to alleviate a sudden rash of pension jettisoning. At the same time, we significantly improved protection for people with traditional pensions, and we expanded and strengthened our customer service platform.

The decade started with a pleasant, familiar result: The U.S. Supreme Court issues an 8-1 decision in the LTV case affirming PBGC's broad authority to address abuses of the federal pension insurance system.

It helped fortify us for a decade of determined destinations that improved our service and fortitude.

For example, as 1990 ended we established the "Early Warning Program" to work with plan sponsors to reduce risk and prevent losses to plan participants and the insurance program as a consequence of corporate transactions. That program paid off in May 1994 when we negotiated a $10 billion pension contribution from General Motors — the largest single contribution ever made to a PBGC-insured pension plan.

The next year, 1995, the John F. Kennedy School of Government and Ford Foundation presented us with the Innovations in Government Award for that Early Warning Program. This award recognizes innovative government solutions in response to social or economic problems.

It was not the only new, important idea we implemented and that succeeded.

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This entry is part of a series of blog posts that looks back and commemorates the agency's work.

PBGC 40th Anniversary Logo

Setting the foundation

What a way to start a decade: Standing in front of the Supreme Court. Yet that is how we began the 1980s, seven days into the year, arguing — and winning — a major decision that upheld the constitutionality of employer liability.

We won a big decision in a battle that was part of a wider, tougher war — and a war where those seeking pensions were losing ground. It was the decade when pension plans sharply turned to become programs at risk.

The decade started with 35.9 million private-sector workers (46 percent of all private-sector workers) being covered by a pension plan. As of Sept. 30, 1980, we were responsible for about 50,000 people.

That decade saw our assets grow along with our responsibilities. We went from being responsible for about 50,000 people to more than 250,000 people. Our assets exceeded $1 billion for the first time.

And the firsts continued.

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This entry is part of a series of blog posts that looks back and commemorates the agency's work.

Photo of President Ford signing ERISA bill

We hit the "Door" running

We had no time to hang photos, adjust chairs or figure out how to dial long distance. Visualize the rush on department store doors on Black Friday — well, that was much like what greeted us when we opened our doors for the first time in Silver Spring, Md., in 1974.

More than 200 urgent cases waited for us before the first pot of coffee was brewed.

Two days later our Board met for the first time and 21 days later we mailed our first premium forms. And it has not slowed since.

Initial annual premiums were $1 per plan participant in the single-employer program and 50 cents per participant in the multiemployer program. Thus began our march together with workers and employers seeking to preserve pension security for hard-working Americans.

When President Ford signed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) on Sept. 2, 1974, which included creation of PBGC, he gave us our charge: "Today, with great pleasure, I am signing into law a landmark measure that may finally give the American worker solid protection in his pension plan," Ford said.

"May" is the word we looked at hard and carefully. In a sense, we want to make the impact of that word as minimal as possible and — ideally — change "may" to "will."

We are not there yet.

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In a recent Pension and Investments opinion column, former PBGC executive director Bradley Belt addressed what needs to happen to keep PBGC from a federal bailout. Belt cited PBGC's Projections Report, which notes the improved condition of the single-employer program. However, the multiemployer program has "deteriorated alarmingly," Belt said.

A federal bailout is avoidable, according to Belt, provided three changes are made to current law: An overhaul to the premium structure, a change in the agency's governance, and a greater ability to determine financial solutions.

Disclaimer: This column does not necessarily represent the views of PBGC or any of its executive leaders and managers.

Photo of Bob Nagle

Robert E. Nagle, who served as PBGC's executive director from 1979-1982, died on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, at his home in McLean, Va., at the age of 84. Nagle was appointed executive director by President Carter in 1979 and continued in the position under President Reagan until 1982.

During Nagle's tenure as executive director, he was best known for restructuring the agency's multiemployer insurance program, following the passage of the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980. He also worked to prevent the termination insurance program from being used to finance ongoing pension plans.

From 1971-1974, Nagle served as general counsel of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, and was instrumental in drafting legislation that was enacted as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

For his commitment to retirement security, Nagle was presented the Jacob Javits Award for Outstanding Contribution to Retirement Security. The award recognized individual efforts that significantly contributed to advancing the private defined benefit pension system.

After his tenure as PBGC's executive director, Nagle was an arbitrator and mediator in employee benefits and labor disputes. As a lawyer in private practice, he also focused on employee benefits issues.

Nagle studied law at Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Chicago Law School. He also studied at Wesleyan University, where he received a bachelor's degree.