What Is the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)?

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) oversees and enforces provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). As an agency of the Department of Labor (DOL), EBSA is charged with enforcing the rules governing the conduct of plan managers, the investment of plan assets, the reporting and disclosure of plan information, the fiduciary provisions of the law, and workers' benefit rights.

Simply put, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) acts as a watchdog against the inappropriate activities of pension managers to ensure the safety of the assets of U.S. workers.

Key Takeaways

  • The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is an agency of the Department of Labor that was established in 1970.
  • EBSA's overall role is to protect the benefits of U.S. employees through the enforcement of rules and regulations that apply to investment plans and investment managers.
  • Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is overseen by EBSA.
  • EBSA oversees 710,000 retirement plans, 2.4 million health plans, and other benefits plans in the amount of $10.1 trillion dollars.

Understanding the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA)

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) helps educate and assist over 155 million U.S. workers, retirees, and their families. Its purview covers nearly 710,000 retirement plans, some 2.4 million health plans, and millions of welfare and benefit plans representing roughly $10.1 trillion in assets.

EBSA creates regulations and seeks to enforce them with the primary goal of ensuring that work-related benefits, such as retirement and health plans, are safeguarded. It also achieves this by educating all parties involved, such as plan sponsors, beneficiaries, and participants.

EBSA provides assistance to participants through Benefits Advisors, that help answer any questions and investigate and process any complaints. If a Benefits Advisor cannot resolve a complaint, then it goes to the enforcement group for review.

EBSA is also responsible for enforcing Title I of ERISA. The purpose of ERISA is to ensure that the retirement assets of U.S. workers are appropriately managed and protected. They achieve this through a variety of regulations that qualified plans must follow so that worker's assets are not invested or managed poorly.

Title II of ERISA is overseen by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This part of ERISA outlines the standards by which plans can receive beneficial tax treatment.

Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) Structure

EBSA has 15 regional and district field offices around the country. These offices conduct investigations into alleged violations of Title I of ERISA. Such offices also handle questions and complaints from pension plan administrators and the public.

The EBSA is led by the Assistant Secretary, who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Under the assistant secretary are the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for national offices, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for regional offices. 

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is divided into eight program offices. They are:

  • Office of Exemption Determinations: Processes requests for exemptions from ERISA’s prohibited transaction provisions for individuals and classes.
  • Office of Enforcement: Conducts EBSA's enforcement program.
  • Office of Health Plan Standards and Compliance Assistance: Provides regulations and rule interpretation guidance related to health plans. Also educates and provides technical support to health plans and government agencies.
  • Office of Regulations and Interpretations: Carries out EBSA’s regulatory agenda and rule interpretation activities. Also develops, analyzes, and implements pension and healthcare policy issues by providing technical assistance and support.
  • Office of the Chief Accountant: Provides annual reporting and audit requirements to employee benefit plans. Also enforces those provisions via civil penalties against plan administrators whose annual report is rejected.
  • Office of Technology and Information Services: Provides computer support and services to EBSA staff nationwide.
  • Office of Outreach, Education, and Assistance: Assists participants and administrators with its staff of Benefits Advisors, who answer questions and complaints. Also establishes outreach policies and procedures, as well as provides oversight and support to the regional offices.
  • Office of Program, Planning, Evaluation, and Management: Advises and provides oversight related to the development, implementation, and evaluation of EBSA policy. Also includes strategic planning, financial management, budgeting, human resources, and administrative programs.