President Trump’s EBSA Nominee Wins Full Senate Approval

The Senate HELP Committee cleared Preston Rutledge’s nomination earlier in December; now the full Senate has approved his nomination to a post in which he will play a critical role overseeing the retirement planning industry and the future of the fiduciary rule. 

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) now has a new head of the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) in Preston Rutledge—the former senior tax and benefits counsel on the Majority Tax Staff of the Senate Finance Committee, and top aide to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.

As readers will likely know, the role of head of EBSA, formally called the “Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration,” puts Rutledge at the helm of one of the lead regulatory bodies tasked with policing the tax-qualified retirement investing industry.

It will take some time for Rutledge to really make an impact in the DOL and within EBSA, but his longstanding ties to the government, and particularly to a legislator known for being active on retirement and labor issues, have many in the retirement benefits industry looking cautiously forward to his tenure. Perhaps most importantly, Rutledge will now begin to play a lead role in determining what the Trump administration will ultimately do with the major Obama-era DOL fiduciary rule expansion.

While Rutledge’s approval to lead EBSA is a key development here, it still is difficult to forecast what the ultimate fate of the twice-delayed rulemaking might be. At this stage, industry observers can only look at the new EBSA head’s time spent working closely with Senator Hatch. Notablywith Hatch helping to lead the waythe Senate has recently voted to overturn Department of Labor separate Obama-era (DOL) rules that helped state and local governments set up retirement savings plans for private-sector workers who have no access to such plans.

Following news of Rutledge’s approval by the full Senate, several retirement industry advocacy groups voiced their support in short statements. One was the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lee Covington, who wrote to say his group was “pleased to see the Senate vote to confirm Preston Rutledge.”

“We are excited about the prospect and are looking forward to working with Preston to develop and put in place policies which will help to expand access to workplace retirement plans, increase retirement savings, and boost the utilization of lifetime income products,” Covington added.