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PBGC Celebrates 40 Years of Protecting Pension Benefits: The 1990s

Thursday August 28, 2014

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

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.

At the start of 1996 we established the Missing Participants clearing house to assist employers terminating fully funded plans to locate missing people to whom they owe benefits. And at the end of that year we launched the "Pension Search Directory," an Internet-based listing created to help locate missing people owed pensions from terminated plans.

In 1994, Vice President Al Gore presented PBGC a "Hammer" award for our Missing Participants Program. As the decade continued we subsequently received additional Hammer Awards for our Early Warning Program, Customer Service Program, Negotiated Rulemaking, Pension Search Directory Launch Team, and "Government of Display" outreach program.

As our creative house churned forward, our fiscal house became stronger.

In May 1994, the U.S. General Accounting Office issued its first clean audit opinion on PBGC's financial statements. One year later, the GAO removed us from its high-risk list.

In 1996, we recorded our first financial surplus since we started. One year later, we had the first financial surplus of PBGC's single-employer program, the result of investment gains and absence of major plan terminations. The surplus ended more than 20 years of deficits and lasted through the decade.

And in January 1998, the Anthracite Health and Welfare Fund became the first multi-employer plan to repay PBGC for its financial assistance — another positive fiscal milestone.

We also moved into our permanent home at 1200 K Street NW, in Washington, D.C. By the time 1998 was coming to a close, we were responsible for the benefits of nearly 500,000 people, more than 200,000 of whom were receiving about $850 million in benefits annually.