ERISA Advisory Council
Section 512 of ERISA provides for the establishment of an Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans. The council consists of 15 members appointed by the Secretary of Labor: three representatives of employee organizations (at least one of whom represents an organization whose members are participants in a multi-employer plan); three representatives of employers (at least one of whom represents employers maintaining or contributing to multi-employer plans); one representative each from the fields of insurance, corporate trust, actuarial counseling, investment counseling, investment management, and accounting; and three representatives of the general public (one of whom represents those receiving benefits from a pension plan). Members must be qualified to appraise the programs instituted under ERISA. Members are appointed for three-year terms, with five terms expiring on November 14 of each year.
The duties of the council are to advise the Secretary and submit recommendations regarding the Secretary's functions under ERISA. The council customarily holds four meetings each year which are open to the public.
Vacancies for the council are announced each year in the Federal Register. Notice is given that any person or organization desiring to recommend one of more individuals for appointment to the council may submit recommendations to the attention of the council's executive secretary. Recommendations must be submitted on or before a specified time and date.
Recommendations may be in the form of a letter, resolution or petition, signed by the person making the recommendations, or in the case of a recommendation by an organization, by an authorized representative of the organization. Each recommendation should identify the candidate by name, occupation or position, telephone number and address, a brief description of the candidate's qualifications, and the group or field which he or she would represent. For the purposes of ERISA section 512, the candidate's political party affiliation must be noted, as section 512 requires that no more than eight council members may be of the same political party. The recommendation must also state whether the candidate is available and would accept appointment to the council.
Letters received in nominating or recommending candidates for a position on the council are evaluated for completeness and qualification of the candidate. Nominating letters are acknowledged and nominees are requested to complete a form declaring their political affiliation according to Section 512 of ERISA. Letters of support for candidates are welcome and are also acknowledged. This process continues until the close of business of the termination date previously announced in the Federal Register for receiving nominations.
Once the nomination process is completed, the Assistant Secretary of the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration reviews the nominations and submits recommendations to the Secretary. The Secretary then appoints the five new members.
In addition, the chair and vice chair of the full council and working groups are selected by the Secretary based upon the advice and recommendation of the Assistant Secretary.
The Executive Secretary position for the Advisory Council is established by Section 512 of ERISA. The Executive Secretary provides staff support to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, regarding Advisory Council activities; schedules, coordinates and provides administrative support to all Advisory Council and Working Group meetings; plans and coordinates the selection process for new members of the Advisory Council; prepares reports regarding the Advisory Council's activities; and establishes and maintains the archives of the Advisory Council.
After due consideration and debate, the council forms a number of working groups to focus on issues important to the administration of ERISA. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration may also suggest issues to the council to be studied during the year. Historically, three or four working groups are formed by the council each year.
During a regularly scheduled meeting of the council, the council receives working groups' progress reports, discusses their findings, poses questions and makes recommendations to the working groups. The council is the body responsible for final decisions made with regard to all working group reports. These decisions are made by the council at scheduled meetings open to the general public.
The purpose of the working groups is to identify and define subject issues, to investigate, to take testimony from witnesses, and to submit a final or interim report of findings and recommendations to the council for approval.
The first meeting of the working groups is organizational in nature. A wide variety of witnesses are identified with a view to inviting them to testify before the working group. The approach and strategy designed to study the relevant issue is reported to the council for advise and consent. During the course of the council term, all working groups report their progress to the council. The council may offer input and guidance. Joint consultation among working group members and the chairs between meetings is encouraged.
During a typical working group meeting, the chair or vice chair calls the meeting to order, welcomes the general public, introduces members of the working group, and states the purpose of the meeting. If work assignments have been given to members of the working group, the chair invites a report. If witnesses have been invited to testify, they are called forward and requested to speak, limiting their testimony to 10 minutes. Witnesses often will submit written testimony which is distributed to the working group and made part of the official record of the meeting. Members of the working group are invited to pose questions to each witness. When no further questions are forthcoming, the chair thanks and excuses the witness. The process continues until all witnesses scheduled for the meeting have been heard.
The chair will invite members of the working group to discuss events of the meeting, encouraging them to express their views and concerns. Upon completion of discussion, the chair will invite statements from the general public. Upon completion of statements from the general public and any discussion, the chair will ask for a motion to adjourn.
The working group studies testimony and deliberations that took place on various issues during the council year. Meetings of the working groups and reporting to the council of progress made continues until early November of each year. Near the end of the council term, members of the working group may be requested to summarize witness testimonies and deliberations of the group in preparation of a final report of findings and recommendations to the council.
Between meetings, informal joint consultation takes place among members and the chairs. Members may be called upon to review materials submitted by witnesses, prepare summaries of witness testimonies, research and prepare documents for an upcoming meeting, or seek additional witnesses for appearance at working group meetings.
November 14 signals the end of the council term. The working groups present their final or preliminary findings and recommendations to the full council at the final meeting of the year. The council discusses each working group report, accepts by vote as presented or with modifications.
The final act the council term is when the council Chair, in a letter to the Secretary of Labor, transmits the working groups' reports as accepted by the council.