Senate Proposal Would Require Confirmation for Pension Agency Chiefs

Future chiefs of a federal agency that insures private pension plans for millions of Americans would be required to win Senate approval to hold the post under a proposal put forth in the Senate.

Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the panel's top-ranking Democrat, Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Monday they had offered legislation to make the change to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

The senators hope to add the provision to legislation aimed at shoring up the nation's troubled private pension system and the PBGC. House and Senate negotiators have been trying to hammer out a final bill, but an agreement thus far has proved elusive.

The PBGC's executive director — responsible for handling the day-to-day operations of the pension agency — is now appointed by the Labor secretary. The proposal would change that to a presidential appointment, a Baucus aide said.

"The PBGC is the only entity standing between some American workers and financial ruin in retirement," Baucus said. "The executive director's position is just too important not to be subject to Senate oversight."

"Senate approval of the executive director would guarantee more attention to the agency," said Grassley.

The current executive director, Bradley Belt, has said he intends to leave at the end of May after two years in the job.

The PBGC, which insures defined-benefit plans, has reported a deficit of $22.8 billion. Bankrupt steel and airline companies that have transferred pension responsibilities to the PBGC have been a major factor in the agency's swollen debt.

PBGC's operations are financed by insurance premiums paid by companies that sponsor traditional pension plans. It also earns money from investments and receives funds from pension plans it takes over. The agency is not funded through tax revenues.