On June 7, 2011 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a 79 page report entitled Retirement Income: Ensuring Income throughout Retirement Requires Difficult Choices. This sounds like really exciting stuff. Although why would the GAO want to study that? I wonder what the GAO does…
We advise Congress and the heads of executive agencies about ways to make government more efficient, effective, ethical, equitable and responsive.
Now that is somewhat interesting. The report talks about people’s personal choices and 401k contribution rates, defined benefit plans, use of annuities, etc. What on earth has that got to do with making the government more efficient? Does the government spend money on private retirement income sources? No, I seem to recall a pretty definitive rejection of an attempt to direct 4% of Social Security funds into private defined contribution plans. So what does this accomplish?
Even if there was a goal, a useful outcome to Congress, this was in no way necessary. All of the major private market recordkeepers are regularly studying this exact issue. Companies like Fidelity, TIAA-CREF, Vanguard, and numerous other colleges, think tanks and non-profits already do the same exact work. Why not use it. There is no need for the GAO to do something at taxpayer expense, that I could find on the internet for free.
So why did they do this report? It was requested by the United States Senate. The letter is in the beginning of the report. So while everyone knew that a single set of “fair, and balanced” (that expression is in the GAO’s mission statement) facts about entitlements would be useful for a Congressional debate this summer, what did the Democrat controlled Senate ask for? A private industry study. Great job guys. If I were the Congressman from the NH 2nd or junior Senator from the Granite State, I’d call them out on it.