Should corporate executives and benefits managers be sweating or hailing proposed new rules mandating the reporting of fees, expenses and performance of company-offered pension programs? That may depend on whether they did their best to provide employees with low-cost plans.

Certainly, there's room for more disclosure concerning the more than $2.5 trillion invested in DC plans. Since 2006, some 20 companies–most recently Wal-Mart — have been hit with employee class-action lawsuits alleging they were bilked by retirement programs that, unknown to them, were charging "unnecessary or excessive" fees. In Wal-Mart's case, employees claim they were charged $60 million in excessive fees over the course of 10 years and that the company failed in its fiduciary responsibility to disclose those costs. Wal-Mart calls those claims "just speculation," and argues that ERISA rules don't require it to offer the cheapest plans available, or to base its choice of retirement plans solely on price.

Last spring, a House committee approved a bill authored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) that would substantially expand pension disclosure requirements, but with opposition from the president and GOP, it's unlikely to go forward. The Department of Labor, however, in July published a proposed new disclosure rule. Public comment is due by Sept. 8 and it would go into effect this January. If not significantly altered, the measure would substantially increase company disclosure concerning 401(k) fees, expenses and performance.

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