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Notice

Submission of Information Collections for OMB Review; Comment Request; Multiemployer Plan Regulations

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

ACTION:

Notice of request for extension of OMB approval.

SUMMARY:

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) is requesting that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) extend approval, under the Paperwork Reduction Act, of collections of information in the PBGC's regulations on multiemployer plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). This notice informs the public of the PBGC's request and solicits public comment on the collections of information.

DATES:

Comments must be submitted by March 3, 2005.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be mailed to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget, Attention: Desk Officer for Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, Washington, DC 20503. Copies of the request for extension (including the collections of information) may be obtained without charge by writing to or visiting the PBGC's Communications and Public Affairs Department, suite 240, 1200 K Street, NW., Washington, DC 20005-4026, or calling 202-326-4040. (TTY and TDD users may call 800-877-8339 and request connection to (202) 326-4040). The regulations on multiemployer plans can be accessed on the PBGC's Web site at http://www.pbgc.gov.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Deborah C. Murphy, Attorney, Office of the General Counsel, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, 1200 K Street, NW., Washington, DC 20005-4026, (202) 326-4024. (For TTY/TDD users, call the Federal relay service toll-free at 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to (202) 326-4024.)

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, a Start Printed Page 5256collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number. OMB has approved and issued control numbers for the collections of information, described below, in the PBGC's regulations relating to multiemployer plans. The PBGC is requesting that OMB extend its approval of these collections of information for three years. Comments should identify the specific part number(s) of the regulation(s) they relate to.

The collections of information for which the PBGC is requesting extension of OMB approval are as follows:

1. Termination of Multiemployer Plans (29 CFR Part 4041A) (OMB Control Number 1212-0020)

Section 4041A(f)(2) of ERISA authorizes the PBGC to prescribe reporting requirements for and other “rules and standards for the administration of” terminated multiemployer plans. Section 4041A(c) and (f)(1) of ERISA prohibit the payment by a mass-withdrawal-terminated plan of lump sums greater than $1,750 or of nonvested plan benefits unless authorized by the PBGC.

The regulation requires the plan sponsor of a terminated plan to submit a notice of termination to the PBGC. It also requires the plan sponsor of a mass-withdrawal-terminated plan that is closing out to give notices to participants regarding the election of alternative forms of benefit distribution and to obtain PBGC approval to pay lump sums greater than $1,750 or to pay nonvested plan benefits.

The PBGC uses the information in a notice of termination to assess the likelihood that PBGC financial assistance will be needed. Plan participants and beneficiaries use the information on alternative forms of benefit to make personal financial decisions. The PBGC uses the information in an application for approval to pay lump sums greater than $1,750 or to pay nonvested plan benefits to determine whether such payments should be permitted.

The PBGC estimates that plan sponsors each year (1) submit notices of termination for 10 plans, (2) distribute election notices to participants in 5 of those plans, and (3) submit requests to pay benefits or benefit forms not otherwise permitted for 1 of those plans. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 19.2 hours and $12,895.

2. Extension of Special Withdrawal Liability Rules (29 CFR Part 4203) (OMB Control Number 1212-0023)

Sections 4203(f) and 4208(e)(3) of ERISA allow the PBGC to permit a multiemployer plan to adopt special rules for determining whether a withdrawal from the plan has occurred, subject to PBGC approval.

The regulation specifies the information that a plan that adopts special rules must submit to the PBGC about the rules, the plan, and the industry in which the plan operates. The PBGC uses the information to determine whether the rules are appropriate for the industry in which the plan functions and do not pose a significant risk to the insurance system.

The PBGC estimates that at most 1 plan sponsor submits a request each year under this regulation. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 1 hour and $4,400.

3. Variances for Sale of Assets (29 CFR Part 4204) (OMB Control Number 1212-0021)

If an employer's covered operations or contribution obligation under a plan ceases, the employer must generally pay withdrawal liability to the plan. Section 4204 of ERISA provides an exception, under certain conditions, where the cessation results from a sale of assets. Among other things, the buyer must furnish a bond or escrow, and the sale contract must provide for secondary liability of the seller.

The regulation establishes general variances (rules for avoiding the bond/escrow and sale-contract requirements) and authorizes plans to determine whether the variances apply in particular cases. It also allows buyers and sellers to request individual variances from the PBGC. Plans and the PBGC use the information to determine whether employers qualify for variances.

The PBGC estimates that each year, 11 employers submit, and 11 plans respond to, variance requests under the regulation, and 2 employers submit variance requests to the PBGC. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 1 hour and $4,881.

4. Reduction or Waiver of Complete Withdrawal Liability (29 CFR Part 4207) (OMB Control Number 1212-0044)

Section 4207 of ERISA allows the PBGC to provide for abatement of an employer's complete withdrawal liability, and for plan adoption of alternative abatement rules, where appropriate.

Under the regulation, an employer applies to a plan for an abatement determination, providing information the plan needs to determine whether withdrawal liability should be abated, and the plan notifies the employer of its determination. The employer may, pending plan action, furnish a bond or escrow instead of making withdrawal liability payments, and must notify the plan if it does so. When the plan then makes its determination, it must so notify the bonding or escrow agent.

The regulation also permits plans to adopt their own abatement rules and request PBGC approval. The PBGC uses the information in such a request to determine whether the amendment should be approved.

The PBGC estimates that each year, 100 employers submit, and 100 plans respond to, applications for abatement of complete withdrawal liability, and 1 plan sponsor requests approval of plan abatement rules from the PBGC. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 25.5 hours and $27,500.

5. Reduction or Waiver of Partial Withdrawal Liability (29 CFR Part 4208) (OMB Control Number 1212-0039)

Section 4208 of ERISA provides for abatement, in certain circumstances, of an employer's partial withdrawal liability and authorizes the PBGC to issue additional partial withdrawal liability abatement rules.

Under the regulation, an employer applies to a plan for an abatement determination, providing information the plan needs to determine whether withdrawal liability should be abated, and the plan notifies the employer of its determination. The employer may, pending plan action, furnish a bond or escrow instead of making withdrawal liability payments, and must notify the plan if it does so. When the plan then makes its determination, it must so notify the bonding or escrow agent.

The regulation also permits plans to adopt their own abatement rules and request PBGC approval. The PBGC uses the information in such a request to determine whether the amendment should be approved.

The PBGC estimates that each year, 1,000 employers submit, and 1,000 plans respond to, applications for abatement of partial withdrawal liability and 1 plan sponsor requests approval of plan abatement rules from the PBGC. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 250.5 hours and $275,000. Start Printed Page 5257

6. Allocating Unfunded Vested Benefits to Withdrawing Employers (29 CFR Part 4211) (OMB Control Number 1212-0035)

Section 4211(c)(5)(A) of ERISA requires the PBGC to prescribe how plans can, with PBGC approval, change the way they allocate unfunded vested benefits to withdrawing employers for purposes of calculating withdrawal liability.

The regulation prescribes the information that must be submitted to the PBGC by a plan seeking such approval. The PBGC uses the information to determine how the amendment changes the way the plan allocates unfunded vested benefits and how it will affect the risk of loss to plan participants and the PBGC.

The PBGC estimates that 5 plan sponsors submit approval requests each year under this regulation. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 10 hours.

7. Notice, Collection, and Redetermination of Withdrawal Liability (29 CFR Part 4219) (OMB Control Number 1212-0034)

Section 4219(c)(1)(D) of ERISA requires that the PBGC prescribe regulations for the allocation of a plan's total unfunded vested benefits in the event of a “mass withdrawal.” ERISA section 4209(c) deals with an employer's liability for de minimis amounts if the employer withdraws in a “substantial withdrawal.”

The reporting requirements in the regulation give employers notice of a mass withdrawal or substantial withdrawal and advise them of their rights and liabilities. They also provide notice to the PBGC so that it can monitor the plan, and they help the PBGC assess the possible impact of a withdrawal event on participants and the multiemployer plan insurance program.

The PBGC estimates that there is at most 1 mass withdrawal and 1 substantial withdrawal per year. The plan sponsor of a plan subject to a withdrawal covered by the regulation provides notices of the withdrawal to the PBGC and to employers covered by the plan, liability assessments to the employers, and a certification to the PBGC that assessments have been made. (For a mass withdrawal, there are 2 assessments and 2 certifications that deal with 2 different types of liability. For a substantial withdrawal, there is 1 assessment and 1 certification (combined with the withdrawal notice to the PBGC).) The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 4 hours and $7,152.

8. Procedures for PBGC Approval of Plan Amendments (29 CFR Part 4220) (OMB Control Number 1212-0031)

Under section 4220 of ERISA, a plan may within certain limits adopt special plan rules regarding when a withdrawal from the plan occurs and how the withdrawing employer's withdrawal liability is determined. Any such special rule is effective only if, within 90 days after receiving notice and a copy of the rule, the PBGC either approves or fails to disapprove the rule.

The regulation provides rules for requesting the PBGC's approval of an amendment. The PBGC needs the required information to identify the plan, evaluate the risk of loss, if any, posed by the plan amendment, and determine whether to approve or disapprove the amendment.

The PBGC estimates that 3 plan sponsors submit approval requests per year under this regulation. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 1.5 hours.

9. Mergers and Transfers Between Multiemployer Plans (29 CFR Part 4231) (OMB Control Number 1212-0022)

Section 4231(a) and (b) of ERISA requires plans that are involved in a merger or transfer to give the PBGC 120 days' notice of the transaction and provides that if the PBGC determines that specified requirements are satisfied, the transaction will be deemed not to be in violation of ERISA section 406(a) or (b)(2) (dealing with prohibited transactions).

This regulation sets forth the procedures for giving notice of a merger or transfer under section 4231 and for requesting a determination that a transaction complies with section 4231.

The PBGC uses information submitted by plan sponsors under the regulation to determine whether mergers and transfers conform to the requirements of ERISA section 4231 and the regulation.

The PBGC estimates that there are 35 transactions each year for which plan sponsors submit notices and approval requests under this regulation. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 8.75 hours and $7,663.

10. Notice of Insolvency (29 CFR Part 4245) (OMB Control Number 1212-0033)

If the plan sponsor of a plan in reorganization under ERISA section 4241 determines that the plan may become insolvent, ERISA section 4245(e) requires the plan sponsor to give a “notice of insolvency” to the PBGC, contributing employers, and plan participants and their unions in accordance with PBGC rules.

For each insolvency year under ERISA section 4245(b)(4), ERISA section 4245(e) also requires the plan sponsor to give a “notice of insolvency benefit level” to the same parties.

This regulation establishes the procedure for giving these notices. The PBGC uses the information submitted to estimate cash needs for financial assistance to troubled plans. Employers and unions use the information to decide whether additional plan contributions will be made to avoid the insolvency and consequent benefit suspensions. Plan participants and beneficiaries use the information in personal financial decisions.

The PBGC estimates that 1 plan sponsor gives notices each year under this regulation. The estimated annual burden of the collection of information is 1 hour and $3,828.

11. Duties of Plan Sponsor Following Mass Withdrawal (29 CFR Part 4281) (OMB Control Number 1212-0032)

Section 4281 of ERISA provides rules for plans that have terminated by mass withdrawal. Under section 4281, if nonforfeitable benefits exceed plan assets, the plan sponsor must amend the plan to reduce benefits. If the plan nevertheless becomes insolvent, the plan sponsor must suspend certain benefits that cannot be paid. If available resources are inadequate to pay guaranteed benefits, the plan sponsor must request financial assistance from the PBGC.

The regulation requires a plan sponsor to give notices of benefit reduction, notices of insolvency and annual updates, and notices of insolvency benefit level to the PBGC and to participants and beneficiaries and, if necessary, to apply to the PBGC for financial assistance.

The PBGC uses the information it receives to make determinations required by ERISA, to identify and estimate the cash needed for financial assistance to terminated plans, and to verify the appropriateness of financial assistance payments. Plan participants and beneficiaries use the information to make personal financial decisions.

The PBGC estimates that plan sponsors each year give benefit reduction notices for 2 plans and give notices of insolvency benefit level and annual updates, and submit requests for financial assistance, for 28 plans. Of those 28 plans, the PBGC estimates that plan sponsors each year give notices of insolvency for 4 plans. The estimated Start Printed Page 5258annual burden of the collection of information is 1 hour and $553,477.

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Issued in Washington, DC, this 12th day of January 2005.

Stuart A. Sirkin,

Director, Policy, Research and Analysis Department, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

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[FR Doc. 05-1844 Filed 1-31-05; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 7708-01-P