Tax Veteran Said to Be White House Pick to Head DOL Benefits Arm

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By Kristen Ricaurte Knebel

The White House plans to nominate Preston Rutledge, the senior tax and benefits counsel for the Senate Finance Committee, to head up the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration.

The expected nomination was first reported by PoliticoPro. The White House and Labor Department told Bloomberg BNA they couldn’t confirm the nomination, but several sources in the employee benefits field said they’ve heard Rutledge is the pick.

Rutledge has a deep background in retirement and benefits policy, having worked under Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for six years and in the Internal Revenue Service’s Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division for a decade. Sources say his confirmation could be an easy one because of his background in the Senate.

If confirmed, Rutledge would come to the EBSA during a critical time, as the agency is in the process of reviewing the Obama administration’s controversial fiduciary rule. The rule aims to cut down on conflicted investment advice given to retirement savers. Rutledge’s tax background could also come in handy for the conversations surrounding the tax overhaul framework that was unveiled two weeks ago.

Well known in the benefits community, Rutledge is “thoughtful, incisive and able to parse through complicated concepts,” Erin M. Sweeney, an employee benefits attorney and of counsel with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 10. Sweeney worked at the DOL under President George W. Bush.

While with the Senate Finance Committee, Rutledge took the lead on several retirement-related bills, including Hatch’s Secure Annuities for Employee (SAFE) Retirement Act of 2013, which, among other things, would have kicked jurisdiction over the DOL’s fiduciary rule to the Treasury Department. Rutledge also led the work on Hatch’s Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2016. The legislation tackled a host of retirement issues, including open multiple employer plans and automatic enrollment. Neither bill advanced out of committee.

Rutledge will “bring a solid background and knowledge base to this key position,” J. Mark Iwry, former senior adviser to the Treasury secretary and deputy assistant secretary for retirement and health policy in the Obama administration, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 11.

Before working in the Senate, Rutledge worked in the IRS’s Office of Chief Counsel.

Rutledge earned his B.S. in finance at the University of Idaho and his J.D. from the George Washington University School of Law. He also received his L.L.M. in Taxation from the Georgetown University Law Center.

The EBSA oversees the administration, regulation, and enforcement of private-sector employee benefit plans covering approximately 150 million Americans. Nearly 700,000 retirement plans and nearly 2.5 million health and welfare plans are regulated by EBSA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kristen Ricaurte Knebel in Washington at kknebel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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