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Saturday, April 25, 2009

ERISAns as Rock Stars

There are some in ERISA to whom we silly practitioners flock to as though moths to a flame.* While at conferences, seminars, etc., DOL and Treasury officials are Da Bombs. Campagna, Hauser, Morrison, Strasfeld, Tackney, Schmidt and Wong are examples, with Hogans and Sweetnam being other recent examples (no dis. to anyone I left off the list). 457A seems to have expanded the circle on the Treasury side to non-benefits "international" folks. Well, now we have a real one-two punch of Rock Stars at senior levels of both the DOL and Treasury.

Boy Oh Borzi

To go in alphabetical order, Phyllis Borzi has been appointed as a new Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security at the DOL. It is hard to imagine the appointment of someone with more knowledge regarding ERISA and its development or a deeper understanding of its underlying policies and technics. She is thoughtful and immensely creative. Her politics seem well-defined, contoured by a deep concern for the interests of participants and beneficiaries and a respect for the legitimate interests of employers and providers. She has been a key player on both the legislative and regulatory sides of ERISA from the get-go. At a recent House hearing (see also my prior post about watching it), Rep. Kildee said, "[Frank] Thompson used to say that only one person in Washington understood this bill [that ultimately became ERISA]. That was Phyllis. . ." ". . . Phyllis Borzi, whose name was always revered around here. She's very . . . very welcome in these quarters," continued Chairman Andrews. Cool.

On the Mark

Mark Iwry is apparently about to be appointed as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy for Retirement and Health Policy (the DASTPRHP? - quite a mouthful (I hope I got it right)). He is a Senior Fellow at Brookings and practices with Sullivan & Cromwell, having been a partner at Covington, and is also a Research Professor at Georgetown. He has already served at Treasury as the principal overseer of national policy on a range of issues affecting employee benefits and compensation. His kindness and intellect are utterly evident in even the briefest of encounters, and it's not surprising that he was cited by the Secretary of the Treasury "[i]n recognition of the collegial working relationship [he] fostered between [Treasury] and the IRS." Like Phyllis, he is balanced, reflective and crazy-smart. Good stuff!

A Modest Proposal

One thought of my own here: I've long felt that they should bring in some kind of ERISA ombudsman in a position to coordinate between the two halves of the practice. The overlap is substantial, to say the least, and a coordinated approach would be a boon. The intellectual and otherwise measured and thoughtful approach palpably behind these two appointments is consistent with a peek at the bigger picture of how it all fits (or doesn't fit) together. Hey, as they say in South Park in reference to Obama - CHANGE! (To digress for a moment, I also like the "Obama!" yell they like to play on The Howard Stern Show.) Just a thought . . .


In a word - wow.

To use several more words, these two appointments could be a harbinger of a new era of real development in this area. Politics completely aside, it's quite something how this administration simultaneously brings us personnel like this on both the fiduciary and tax sides of the practice. Anyone who has had the good fortune to know or even meet them should understand what we've been given here. This is good timing for tough times. There are some hugely difficult issues on tap, and I have trouble imagining anyone more capable of helping to steer the ship of state through these rocky waters. Let's rock 'n roll.

* Anyone fascinated by bugs should see the Oscar-winning The Hellstrom Chronicle.

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