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Employee Benefits Security Administration
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Research Program

EBSA's research expands knowledge of employee benefits and their role in meeting the economic security needs of the Nation. EBSA conducts and disseminates economic and policy research designed to advance EBSA's mission, "improving health benefits and retirement security for all workers." EBSA's research program fulfills the Secretary of Labor authorization and directive to conduct research related to employee benefit plans under Section 513(a) of ERISA.

EBSA applies current economic theory to better understand the ways in which economic and demographic forces influence private employee benefits, and the ways in which employee benefits interact with public social insurance programs and influence economic behavior. EBSA also conducts quantitative and policy analysis of current legislative and regulatory issues relating to private employee benefits. EBSA communicates with the employee benefits policy/research community via written materials and briefings.

Contract Research Program

Through competitively bid, multiyear research contracts EBSA funds research into employee benefits issues. The current contracts were awarded in 2008 to four multidisciplinary research organizations; the Actuarial Research Corporation, Deloitte, RAND Corporation and the Policy Simulation Group. These organizations were engaged:

  • To develop statistical data on employee benefit plans and to provide technical assistance with the compilation of data directly related to the analysis of employee benefits policies, legislation and regulations;
  • To estimate the costs, benefits, or other impacts of proposed new policies, legislation and regulations;
  • To conduct more traditional economic research studies with application to a broad array of employee benefits policy issues; and
  • To provide analytical and statistical tools that can enhance EBSA's program functions such as enforcement.

Interagency Agreements

The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics (Forum) was initially established in 1986, with the goal of bringing together Federal agencies that share a common interest in improving aging-related data. The Forum has played a key role by critically evaluating existing data resources and limitations, stimulating new database development, encouraging cooperation and data sharing among Federal agencies, and preparing collaborative statistical reports. EBSA first joined the Forum in 2007 and participates in the full Forum and the Forum Planning Committee. Forum publications include:

Funded Health and Pension Research Papers

For further information about these activities, please visit the web sites of the respective organizations. To see some of the papers these contractors have published, visit our Funded Health and Pension Research Papers page.

Form 5500 Data

Form 5500 Annual Returns/Reports of Employee Benefit Plans are filed annually with the Department of Labor (DOL), the Internal Revenue Service, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. EBSA discloses originally submitted Form 5500 data collected through the EFAST systems as well as two Research Files that have undergone further refinement: the Private Pension Plan Research File and the Group Health Plans Research File. The Private Pension Plan Research File supports analysis of the plan, participant, and financial characteristics of the private pension plan universe and is used to produce the Private Pension Plan Bulletins Abstract of Form 5500 Annual Reports, an annual publication that summarizes data on private pension plans.  The Group Health Plans Research File supports analysis of the plan, participant, and financial characteristics of the private group health plans that are required to file a Form 5500.  The Group Health Plans Research File is used to produce the Group Health Plans Report, an annual publication that summarizes data on group health plans by plan funding status.

Health Insurance Coverage Bulletin and March Current Population Survey Auxiliary Data

EBSA annually produces auxiliary data focused on characteristics of employer-sponsored insurance. This data, when linked to the March Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (March CPS), generates estimates of the number of individuals with different types of insurance coverage. Additionally, this data can be used to produce statistics on various aspects of employer-sponsored insurance, such as: sector sponsoring coverage; funding source; type of health plan; and value. The data in the auxiliary file is primarily imputed from other datasets including the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Household Component (MEPS-HC), Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Insurance Component (MEPS-IC), the Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer- Sponsored Insurance and the National Compensation Survey (NCS). The Health Insurance Coverage Bulletin provides highlights of the year's data as well as summary tables. The Technical Appendix details the imputation methodology used to produce the data. The Layout of the March CPS Auxiliary Data provides the layout of the fixed format data files as well as a brief description of each variable. The raw data is provided in both Stata and SAS versions.

  • Health Insurance Coverage Bulletin
  • Technical Appendix: March CPS Auxiliary Data
  • Layout of the March CPS Auxiliary Data
  • March CPS Auxiliary Data - Stata version
  • March CPS Auxiliary Data - SAS version

Section 513(a) of ERISA: Research, Studies, and Annual Report

  • The Secretary is authorized to undertake research and surveys and in connection therewith to collect, compile, analyze and publish data, information, and statistics relating to employee benefit plans, including retirement, deferred compensation, and welfare plans, and types of plans not subject to this Act.
  • The Secretary is authorized and directed to undertake research studies relating to pension plans, including but not limited to (A) the effects of this title upon the provisions and costs of pension plans, (B) the role of private pensions in meeting the economic security needs of the Nation, and (C) the operation of private pension plans including types and levels of benefits, degree of reciprocity or portability, and financial and actuarial characteristics and practices, and methods of encouraging the growth of the private pension system.
  • The Secretary may, as he deems appropriate or necessary, undertake other studies relating to employee benefit plans, the matters regulated by this subchapter, and the enforcement procedures provided for under this title.
  • The research, surveys, studies, and publications referred to in this subsection may be conducted directly, or indirectly through grant or contract arrangements.