DOL’s EBSA investigations, recoveries down from record in 2021

The Labor Department's Employee Benefits Security Administration recovered about $2.4 billion in fiscal 2021, down from $3.1 billion a year prior.

The DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration recovered about $2.4 billion and closed nearly 1,100 civil investigations in fiscal 2021, figures that were down slightly from those in 2020.

The agency, which published the numbers Tuesday, fielded more than 175,000 inquiries, which led to about $500 million in recovered assets for retirement plan participants and other beneficiaries.

EBSA recoveries hit a record in fiscal 2020, at more than $3.1 billion, the DOL stated last year. That was up from $1.6 billion in 2018 and $2.6 billion in 2019.

In recent years, EBSA has been pursuing a smaller number of cases — but against larger employers, with the promise of bigger payouts, the Government Accountability Office noted in a report published in May. Last year, for example, the DOL closed less than a third of the number of cases it closed in 2014, but the amount of money it recovered was six times higher, according to the GAO.

The effect of the pandemic on enforcement actions and recoveries isn’t immediately clear. For its report, the GAO interviewed DOL staff, some of whom saw the potential for more cases in the future, as businesses that shuttered might have abandoned their retirement plans. Further, they noted, workers who became unemployed as a result of the pandemic might be unaware of their accounts, leading to a potentially higher volume of “missing” participants.

Of the 1,071 civil investigations by EBSA in fiscal 2021, 741 resulted in money being recovered or plans having to take corrective actions, according to the agency. Of the money recovered, more than $1.5 billion was owed to about 16,000 defined-benefit pension participants who were vested in plans but terminated.

The investigations in fiscal 2021 led to 72 people being indicted, according to the DOL.

EBSA has oversight of about 734,000 retirement plans, 2 million health plans and 662,000 welfare benefit plans, and those plans represent 158 million workers and dependents, according to the agency.

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