EBSA Wants Feedback on Upcoming Research Effort

The Employee Benefits Security Administration is giving employers and service providers an opportunity to comment on how it collects and processes information, especially as it pertains to a new long-term research project being kicked off this year.

Hoping to assess the impact of its information collection requirements and to minimize the reporting burden related to upcoming research projects, the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) is asking for the retirement planning industry’s help.

EBSA says it is soliciting comments on the usefulness of a forthcoming information collection request (ICR), which the regulator is planning to use to conduct a multi-year household survey that will investigate retirement planning and decisionmaking. Beyond looking to minimize the cost and time impact of compliance and reporting, EBSA says it also hopes this request for comment will ultimately help the public understand the Department’s information collection requirements and provide the requested data in the desired format.

The call for comments comes as the DOL and EBSA are “planning to undertake a long-term research study to develop a panel that will track U. S. households over several years in order to collect data and answer important research questions on how retirement planning strategies and decisions evolve over time.” In explaining the project, DOL says it believes “still relatively little is known about how people make planning and financial decisions before and during retirement.”

As the EBSA’s request for comment explains, a major hurdle to retirement research is the lack of data on how people make these decisions related to retirement. “Gaining insight into Americans’ decisionmaking processes and experiences will provide policymakers and the research community with valuable information that can be used to guide future policy and research,” DOL says. “This investigation will explore a set of research questions on retirement savings, investments, and drawdown behavior by conducting a study that tracks retirees and future retirees over an extended period.”

A main goal of the project will be to “combine household reports of such items as retirement account contributions and investment allocations with survey responses on planning methods and strategies and on financial advice received to perform a cross-sectional analysis, conditional on other respondent attributes.”

NEXT: More on the project’s goals 

EBSA hopes that eventually “multiple waves of data” will be drawn from various surveys and will be utilized to analyze how retirement planning strategies, decisions, and outcomes evolve over time.

“Prior to administering the surveys, the data collection instruments will be pretested via cognitive interviews, pilot surveys, and debriefing of respondents to the pilot surveys,” EBSA explains.

At this preliminary stage, EBSA says it is particularly interested in comments that evaluate whether the collections of information described above are necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility. EBSA also wants to “evaluate the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the collections of information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology, e.g., by permitting electronic submissions of responses.”

Comments submitted in response to this notice will be summarized and/or included in the ICRs for Office of Management and Budget approval of the necessary extensions of the DOL's information collection authority; they will also become a matter of public record, EBSA notes.

The full request for commentary appears here and will be published in the February 29, 2016, edition of the Federal Register. Responses are due within 60 days.