Alvin Lurie, president of Alvin D. Lurie, P.C., who served
as assistant commissioner of Internal Revenue (Employee Plans & Exempt Organizations)
from 1974 to 1978, noted that with ERISA, for the first time, two
regulators—that did not always like each other—had to work together to
establish rules and enforce the law. It was not without its bumps in the road,
but the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) paired
well on this singular focus.
According to Harry Conaway, head of Mercer’s Washington
Resource Group, and former associate tax legislative counsel in the Office of
Tax Policy at the U.S. Treasury Department, the best thing about ERISA is its
pre-emption of state laws. “The ERISA pre-emption—setting up a federal
framework for the provision of benefits to employees was the best thing,” he
told attendees at the 2014 American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries
(ASPPA) Annual Conference.
Dallas Salisbury, president and CEO of the Employee Benefit
Research Institute (EBRI), who joined EBRI as the chief staff executive at its
founding in 1978, said ERISA’s funding standards and fiduciary standards—which
protect employees’ benefits security and make sure those responsible for plans
and investments are working in the best interest of employees—are the best
things about ERISA.
However, Mark Iwry, senior advisor and deputy assistant
secretary at the U.S. Department of Treasury, said there is a single
disappointment with ERISA: the continued lack of retirement plan coverage of
American workers. “The employer retirement system has done great things, but we
need to do more to cover the 20 million Americans making $30,000 to $40,000 per
year who do not have an employer-sponsored retirement plan,” he stated.
Lurie pointed out that, at the time ERISA was passed,
legislators and regulators had no idea the retirement industry would shift to a
mostly defined benefit (DB) plan landscape to a defined contribution (DC) plan
Ann Combs, principal and head of Vanguard Government
Relations, and former assistant secretary of labor for the Department of Labor
(DOL)’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), noted this is one
reason why the Social Security system and its continued solvency are so
On the subject of combining systems to ensure a financially
healthy retirement for Americans, Lurie noted that health care and retirement
are now competing “at the same trough” for employee savings. “There’s not
enough money for both; America needs something that will cover both,” he said.
agreed that the combining of resources will be the best thing for Americans.
“Having a 401(k) or IRA can disqualify a person for food stamps, for example,”
he said. “All groups need to work together to come up with a way to help
Americans have security in retirement without sacrificing their needs today.”