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Photo of Kathleen P. Utgoff

Kathleen P. Utgoff, PBGC Director 1985-89

In its 40-year history, PBGC has had 14 agency directors, including current Director Josh Gotbaum. One among them stands out, however. With Women's History Month underway, Retirement Matters features former agency director Kathleen P. Utgoff.

Among a dozen wood-framed portraits on the 12th floor of the agency's Washington, DC headquarters, one photo stands out. That's because the image depicts the only female ever to serve as PBGC's executive director.

Installed as the agency's seventh director during the Reagan administration, Utgoff led PBGC from 1985 to 1989. When her term ended, who knew that in 40 years of protecting America's pensions, her photo would be the only woman's to grace that wall of fame of former directors?

As the agency celebrates both National Women's History Month with the 2014 theme of Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment, as well as PBGC's 40th anniversary with its theme of Celebrating the Past, Securing the Future, Retirement Matters thought it'd be a good idea to dust off some old Rolodexes and introduce, or in some cases reintroduce Utgoff to PBGC, which she calls "a jewel among agencies."

Cartoon representation of Kathleen P. Utgoff in front of sign reading PBGC Renovation Project. Project Engineer: Kathleen P Utgoff

Reprinted with permission, Business Insurance 1989. © Crain Communications, Inc.

In a 1989 cartoon (pictured left), cartoonist Roger Schillerstrom of Business Insurance depicts Utgoff at the completion of her term. She touted the PBGC Renovation Project as one of her biggest accomplishments.

Some plan participants may have been introduced to the agency under Utgoff's reign, but for those who have no idea who she is, here's "herstory."

Utgoff received a bachelor's in economics from California State University, Northridge, and in 1978 a doctorate in economics from UCLA. Her dissertation was titled Unemployment Insurance, the Duration of Unemployment and Subsequent Earnings.

Utgoff's first job as an economist was with the Center for Naval Analysis, a research and development center that conducts policy-oriented research for the Navy and other public institutions. She was there from 1974 to 1983 performing economic research for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Department of Labor.

From 1983 to 1985, she was a senior economist with the Council of Economic Advisers, where she was responsible for all labor market issues. She led an interagency working group that developed policy and legislative strategy for the Cabinet Council on Pensions and Health. She also authored major sections of the Economic Report of the President.

Her work with pensions led her to the position of executive director at PBGC.

Although some 25 years ago, Utgoff vividly remembers her time at the agency and noted that she "was very happy at PBGC."

In terms of being PBGC's only female director, Utgoff expressed disappointment. "The fact that I am the only female director in 40 years is very troublesome," she said. Her advice to women currently serving in the public sector is to "let everyone know how good you are: Shine and network." Utgoff also recalls that during her stint at PBGC, "a number of top positions at the Corporation were filled by women for the first time."

At the time of her resignation, not only was she recognized as PBGC's first female director, she had also become the director to serve the longest tenure. During her time, the agency worked with Congress to address concerns of solvency by designing and implementing two new pension laws, including the Single Employer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1986 (SEPPAA).

"I miss the people and opportunity to change the direction of the PBGC," Utgoff said.

Still in tune with the dismal outlook of retirement security, Utgoff said, "Most economists think about the 'moral hazard' of insurance; namely, the changes that are caused by the insurance. This 'moral hazard' may have been reduced when I was executive director of the PBGC, but it is still there. Over the years, retirement security has been reduced by a number of factors."

After her four-year term at PBGC, Utgoff served as the chief economist and a partner at Groom and Nordberg, the largest employee benefits law firm in the country. In July 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Utgoff to be the 12th commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Utgoff chose not to continue for another four years and completed her term as commissioner in July 2006.

In case you were wondering what she's been up to since then, Utgoff is now retired. She spends her time perfecting her painting and drawing. Her commitment to public service hasn't weathered — she also volunteers in her community. Her favorite pastime is visiting her granddaughter in California.

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