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Office of the PBGC Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate (OPPSA)The advocate

  • Overview
  • Annual reports
  • ISSUES AT A GLANCE
  • ISSUES ARCHIVE
  • FAQS
en Español
About the Office of the Advocate

The PBGC Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate (Advocate) and staff in the Office of the Advocate help participants and plan sponsors resolve disputes with PBGC. For more information about the Office of the Advocate and our free services, see our Frequently Asked Questions.

Get Help

If you need assistance in resolving a dispute with PBGC, contact the Office of the Advocate at advocate@pbgc.gov or (202) 229-4448

For TTY/ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) users, call the federal relay service toll-free at 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to (202) 229-4448

Comuníquese con la Advocadora en Español, al teléfono
(202) 229-4448 y correo electrónico advocate@pbgc.gov

Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate Annual Reports

Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate Annual Reports
en Español

PBGC Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate Annual Reports

The Advocate is statutorily required to submit a report on the Office of the Advocate’s activities by December 31 of each calendar year. This report is submitted concurrently to PBGC’s Congressional Committees of Jurisdiction, the Board of Directors, and the PBGC Director. The Advocate’s Annual Report summarizes participant and plan sponsor requests for assistance, identifies significant problems, and may include specific administrative, legislative, and regulatory recommendations to address issues raised by the Advocate.
 

Current Annual Report

Previous Annual Reports

Issues at a Glance

Issues at a Glance
en Español

2020 – Participant and Plan Sponsor Issues at a Glance

The Advocate’s 2020 Annual Report describes the Office of the Advocate’s participant and plan sponsor cases and activities, as well as the Office’s latest initiative, the Pension Plan Registry Project (Project).

The Report details the Office of the Advocate’s Pension Plan Registry Project, which seeks to create a tool to help participants search information about the history of a pension plan. The Project, which has the support of participant advocacy and plan sponsor trade groups, will use information available at PBGC to develop the tool and help individuals with their lost pension search. The Advocate’s Report identifies the Project as a high priority initiative for the Office in 2021.

The Report also describes many positive changes made by PBGC to address past Advocate recommendations, including improving oversight of PBGC’s Field Benefit Administration offices and revising overpayment recoupment communications and processes. The Report details the successful resolution of an issue brought to the attention of the Office of the Advocate regarding PBGC’s guidance on the effect of the contribution delay provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on the calculation of PBGC premiums. Other notable positive strides include the continued success of a data-sharing agreement between PBGC and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration Regional offices to help reunite participants and beneficiaries with unclaimed pension benefits and the consolidation of potentially omitted participant cases into the Office of Benefits Administration.

The Report notes areas where participants and plan sponsors still face challenges in their dealings with PBGC, including longstanding cases which go on for months or even years without resolution. The Advocate’s recommendations include conducting a cost-benefit analysis on all cases and revisiting old processes and procedures to ensure they are efficient and customer-friendly. The Report again emphasizes the need for greater scrutiny and oversight of cases that languish at the agency and frequent managerial oversight to clear such backlog. The Advocate’s Report also identifies challenges faced by participants in financially troubled multiemployer pension plans facing insolvency or other benefit cuts.

For more information, including the Advocate’s comments and recommendations, visit the 2020 Annual Report.

Issues at a Glance Archive

Issues at a Glance Archive

2019 – Participant and Plan Sponsor Issues at a Glance

The Advocate’s 2019 Annual Report identified a variety of positive improvements made by PBGC in response to past Advocate recommendations to address participant and plan sponsor concerns. Notable plan sponsor-related changes included making PBGC’s Mediation Program permanent, improving Early Warning Program communications, and offering a pre-filing consultation for ERISA section 4010 filings. Participant-related positive strides included the continued success of PBGC’s interagency initiative with the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration Regional offices to help reunite participants and beneficiaries with unclaimed pension benefits as well as PBGC’s consolidation of potentially omitted participants case review into PBGC’s Office of Benefits Administration.

The Report also highlighted areas where participants and plan sponsors still face challenges when dealing with PBGC. Many of these challenges involved a lack of effective coordination among and between PBGC departments which contributes to confusion and delays in resolving plan sponsor and participant disputes with the agency. Other notable recommendations included issuing guidance so PBGC can pay plan sponsors interest on premium overpayments and increasing oversight of the Office of Benefits Administration’s Field Benefit Administration offices.

The Report also introduced the Office of the Advocate’s new initiative to create a Pension Plan Registry which would provide a tracing service so participants and plan sponsors can track what happened to a pension plan.

For more information, including the Advocate’s comments and recommendations, visit the 2019 Annual Report.

 

2018 – Participant and Plan Sponsor Issues at a Glance

The Advocate’s 2018 Annual Report marked the five-year anniversary of establishing the position of the Advocate at PBGC. While the Report identified the below issues faced by participants and plan sponsors, it also highlighted positive changes PBGC has made in response to prior recommendations by the Advocate. The 2018 Annual Report also contained legislative suggestions to strengthen the Office of the Advocate’s enabling legislation based on the Office’s past five years of experience assisting participants and plan sponsors resolve disputes with the corporation.

Participant Issues:

  • Generic communications are inadequate to address complex issues.
  • Failure to gather all information on benefit claims hurts participants seeking their benefit entitlements.
  • Case management challenges due to lack of contractor supervision.
  • Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014.

Plan Sponsor Issues:

  • Lack of engaged oversight to promote settlement of stalled cases.
  • Protracted negotiations lead to challenges for small employer and charity plan sponsors.
  • Lack of clarity in communications with plan sponsors.
  • Need for effective coordination and cohesion among different PBGC departments.

Positive Changes Responsive to Advocate Report Recommendations:

  • Consolidate the review of potentially omitted participants claims to the Office of Benefits Administration.
  • Expansion of the initiative between PBGC and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration regional offices to help reunite participants with their benefits.
  • Provide accessible informal staff guidance concerning Title IV issues for practitioners.
  • Plan Sponsor Pilot Mediation Project.
  • Established guiding principles for exceptional customer service.

The Report also included the second part of a pension de-risking study commissioned by the Office of the Advocate at the request of plan sponsors which seeks to identify the key causes of de-risking activity as well as PBGC and Congressional actions that could slow pension de-risking activity.

For more information, including the Advocate’s comments and recommendations, visit the 2018 Annual Report.

 

2017 – Participant and Plan Sponsor Issues at a Glance

The Advocate’s 2017 Annual Report noted positive changes by PBGC which are responsive to past identified plan sponsor concerns, including PBGC’s pilot mediation program and voluntary distress termination pre-filing consultation. The Advocate also highlighted positive participant initiatives, including the publication of a final rule to update PBGC’s Missing Participants regulation and sustained interactions with participant advocacy groups.

Additionally, the Advocate identified the following issues faced by participants and plan sponsors:

Participant Issues:

  • Stove-piped departments which hinder participants seeking benefit entitlements.
  • Challenges in obtaining documentation relevant to participants’ benefit claims.
  • Complex benefit entitlement and omitted participant cases.
  • Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014.

Plan Sponsor Issues:

  • Lack of ease in doing business with PBGC.
  • Lack of transparency and certainty in PBGC’s actions.
  • Lack of timeliness.
  • Lack of substantive discussion to facilitate prompt settlement.
  • Lack of effective coordination and cohesion among various PBGC departments.

For the first time, the Advocate’s Annual Report includes a pension de-risking study commissioned by the Office of the Advocate at the request of plan sponsors which focuses on PBGC and Congressional actions that may slow pension de-risking activity, and highlights the drivers and causes of pension de-risking.

For more information, including the Advocate’s comments and recommendations, visit the 2017 Annual Report.

 

2016 - Participant and Plan Sponsor Issues at a Glance

The Advocate identified the following themes in the challenges participants and plan sponsors encounter with PBGC in the 2016 Annual Report.

  • Interactions with PBGC are adversarial and defensive, rather than collaborative and businesslike, in working toward a mutually agreeable resolution
  • There is a lack of transparency in working with PBGC to understand the corporation’s assumptions, resulting in costly and time-consuming interactions with the agency which can go on for months and even years
  • PBGC is unwilling to exercise judgment and discretion with participant claims and sponsor penalties, relying almost exclusively on automatic and mechanical-like approaches
  • PBGC demands documentation, costly analysis, and historical records that businesses, governmental entities, or participants rarely, if ever, retain

The Advocate also noted positive improvements including PBGC’s release of its proposed Missing Participants Regulation as well as a collaborative effort between PBGC and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration Chicago Regional Office to reunite participants with their missing participants. The Advocate also highlighted PBGC’s updates to its premium penalty rule which provide extraordinary relief for premium payers by reducing penalty rates for all plans and waiving most of the penalty for plans that meet a standard for good compliance.

For more information, including the Advocate’s comments and recommendations, visit the 2016 Annual Report

 

2015 - Plan Sponsor Issues at a Glance

The Advocate identified the following issues in the 2015 Annual Report. For more information, including the Advocate's comments and recommendations on these issues, visit the Report.

  • PBGC Must Improve Relations with Plan Sponsor
  • Premiums and Premium Penalties Need a Fresh Look
  • PBGC's Early Warning Program
  • Reportable Events Regulations

2015 - Plan Participant Issues at a Glance

The Advocate identified the following issues in the 2015 Annual Report. For more information, including the Advocate's comments and recommendations on these issues, visit the Report.

  • Complex Benefit Entitlement and Omitted Participant Cases
  • Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (MPRA)
  • Consultation with the Participant Advocacy Groups and PBGC
  • Interagency Coordination and Participant Benefit Entitlements

 

2014 - Plan Sponsor Issues at a Glance

The Advocate identified the following issues in the 2014 Annual Report. For more information, including the Advocate's comments and recommendations on these issues, visit the Report.

  • Improvement of PBGC's working relationships with sponsors: There is a need for PBGC to shift to a less adversarial and more collegial partnership approach in working with the Plan Sponsor community.
  • ERISA section 4062(e): There are unresolved issues related to PBGC enforcement of ERISA section 4062(e).
  • Communicating PBGC's numbers: There is a need for a more substantive response from PBGC regarding certain financial information, such as how PBGC calculates its liabilities and how PBGC manages and invests its assets.
  • Premium penalties: There is a need for more exploration on the issues surrounding premium penalties.

2014 - Plan Participant Issues at a Glance

The Advocate identified the following issues in the 2014 Annual Report. For more information, including the Advocate's comments and recommendations on these issues, visit the Report.

  • Non-routine individual requests to PBGC for assistance: Although PBGC has defined processes for responding to participant calls about trusteed plan benefits, participant requests involving complicated or uncommon issues, including "woodwork" or "omitted" participants, may fall outside PBGC's customer service goals and present special challenges.
  • Frequent and continuing consultation with Participant organizations: Plan sponsor-based organizations meet regularly with PBGC senior officials and offer PBGC the opportunity to attend professional events and provide updates that address relevant issues. Although Participant organizations have contacts with PBGC and are able to arrange occasional meetings, there is a lack of a regularized, continued practice of communication among PBGC and the participant organizations.
  • Improved communication with Participant and Retiree organizations about PBGC's finances and operations: Participant and Retiree organizations are as engaged as sponsor organizations in discussions about PBGC's current financial strength, outlook for the future, premium needs, and more, and would prefer more information-sharing, more of an understanding of current data and trends, and less rapid movement to summary and conclusion.
  • Additional items for exploration: There are outstanding issues raised by participant and retiree organizations such as lump sum distributions from plans trusteed by PBGC, church plans, and guidance addressing issues generated by de-risking transactions.  

Office of the Advocate Frequently Asked Questions

Office of the Advocate Frequently Asked Questions
en Español

Office of the Advocate Frequently Asked Questions

 

Office of the Advocate Overview

What does the Office of the Advocate do?

The Office of the Advocate helps participants and plan sponsors resolve their disputes with PBGC. The Office of the Advocate works directly with participants in defined benefit plans to ensure that they receive benefits that they are entitled to from PBGC. The Office of the Advocate also assists plan sponsors in resolving disputes and other issues with PBGC.

Can the Advocate help me resolve my dispute with a private party?

The Office of the Advocate cannot help in the resolution of disputes between private parties. The Office of the Advocate’s statutory jurisdiction is limited to helping parties resolve disputes with PBGC.

I am looking for my lost pension. Can the Office of the Advocate help?

The Office of the Advocate can assist with certain searches for historical information about a lost defined benefit pension plan. For more information about the Office of the Advocate’s pension tracing assistance, contact (202) 229-4448 or advocate@pbgc.gov.

 

Advocate History and Background

How was the position of the PBGC Advocate created?

The role of the PBGC Advocate was created on July 6, 2012, when the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), was signed into law. MAP-21 amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to add a new section establishing the role of the PBGC Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate, the Advocate’s duties, and reporting requirements.

Who is the Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate and how was she selected?

Ms. Constance Donovan is the first and current PBGC Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate. PBGC’s Board of Directors selected Ms. Donovan in October 2013 to serve in this newly created role.

What is the Office of the Advocate?

The Office of the Advocate was established in October 2015 to support the Advocate in fulfilling her statutory duties. The Office of the Advocate is independent of PBGC management and reports directly to the PBGC Board of Directors. See Biographies for more information about Office of the Advocate staff.

What are the Advocate’s main duties?

The Advocate’s enabling statute, ERISA section 4004(b), lists the Advocate’s main duties. The Advocate acts as a liaison between participants, plan sponsors, and PBGC, and helps these parties resolve disputes with the agency. The Advocate also identifies areas where participants and plan sponsors have persistent problems in dealing with PBGC and proposes legislative and administrative practice changes to address such issues. The Advocate also refers instances of fraud, waste, and abuse, and violations of law to PBGC’s Office of the Inspector General.

Under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, the Advocate has a consultative role regarding partition and facilitated merger applications. The legislation also allows the Advocate to submit recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury regarding certain benefit suspension applications. See PBGC’s MPRA website for more information.

 

Advocate Annual Report

What are the Advocate’s reporting requirements?

Section 4004(e) of ERISA requires the Advocate to report annually on the activities of the Office of the Advocate. The Advocate’s Annual Report summarizes assistance requests from participants and plan sponsors, identifies significant problems, and makes administrative, legislative, and regulatory recommendations to address issues raised by the Advocate. The Advocate’s report is submitted concurrently to PBGC’s Congressional Committees of Jurisdiction, the PBGC Board of Directors, and the PBGC Director no later than December 31 of each calendar year.

Is the Advocate’s Annual Report publicly available?

Copies of the current and past Advocate Annual Reports can be found on the Office of the Advocate’s website.

 

Contact Information

How can I contact the Office of the Advocate?

The Office of the Advocate can be reached at (202) 229-4448 and advocate@pbgc.gov.

Does the Office of the Advocate charge for its services?

There is no charge for the Office of the Advocate’s services.