Simplification Award FAQs

What are the primary criteria that will be used in evaluating submissions?

A: The College seeks submissions that identify specific statutory simplification proposals that would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the employee benefits system and that have reasonable prospect of being enacted and implemented in the next decade or sooner. Submissions will be judged on three main criteria – (1) the benefits of simplification; (2) the originality of the proposal; and (3) the likelihood that the proposal can be enacted or implemented.

Q: What is meant by “simplification”?

A: For purposes of this Award, simplification is intended to be broadly defined to include targeted and specific legislative changes that would improve the employee benefits system, such as the reduction of administrative costs or fees; increases in the availability or level of benefits; improving compliance; increasing understanding and appreciation of employee benefits; or in any other manner.

Proposals could include changes such as those that make it easier for plan participants and plan sponsors to understand their respective rights and responsibilities, simplify enrollment, recordkeeping and reporting, simplify eligibility and participation rules, simplify rules relating to tax deductions, deferrals, or qualification, reduce administrative costs for participants or plan sponsors, improve the claims process, reduce the need for litigation, or simplify the litigation process.

In evaluating the benefits of simplification, submitters are asked to quantify the benefits of the proposed change to the extent possible, including the costs and benefits to all stakeholders. Moreover, submitters are required to address how their proposal will either enhance or, at the least, have no material impact on employee/participant rights. A proposal that would eliminate or significantly curtail employee/participant rights under other laws, such as civil rights or investor protection laws, will not be considered simplification even if it makes the operation of employee benefit plans easier.

Similarly, a proposal that would make the provision of employee benefits materially less attractive for employers and plan sponsors will fail this criterion, as well as the enactability test described below.

Q: Is a proposal considered “original” if the general concept has been floated before, but not in legislative form?

A: That will depend on the nature of the proposal. Originality is by its nature a difficult concept to define and as a result, a proposal’s originality will be judged on a continuum. Proposals that are substantially similar to legislation that is currently pending before Congress would not be considered original. However, most existing employee benefit rules will have already been the subject of analysis by various parties, so the fact that a general concept has been previously floated in legislation, academic literature, or otherwise will not necessary mean a specific submission is not “original” if the authors provide a new, more detailed, or more convincing case for the suggested changes. Similarly, the fact that the authors have previously written on the subject or submitted articles for publication will not necessarily disqualify a proposal.Also, whether a proposal that grows out of a long-standing concept is “original” may depend on how much analysis and drafting is needed to reduce the concept to a legislative proposal. For example, a proposal to simplify a long-standing retirement-plan rule by simply repealing it would probably not be viewed as particularly “original”. On the other hand, a detailed proposal to redesign the same rule to make it easier to apply or administer without materially cutting back on the substantive policy objectives that the rule was intended to achieve would be viewed as more original.

If a proposal appears to have been offered as legislation, whether because of its format or its content, the submission should explain why it should nevertheless be considered original.

Q: What if the person making the proposal does not realize that it, or something very much like it, has been proposed in earlier years?

A: Submitters are asked to submit a statement certifying that to the best of their knowledge and belief, the proposal is original, and to distinguish it from similar pre-existing ideas that have already been raised or discussed in the benefits community. This may be a matter of turning a general idea into a legislative proposal that is actionable, or it may be that the proposal presents a unique idea. The fact that a Committee or Board of Governors member has a distant memory of something similar having been suggested years ago will not necessarily disqualify a proposal, but this is likely to be a matter of degree.

Q: What is meant by the enactability criterion?

A: The basic criterion is that there should be a reasonable prospect of the proposal being enacted and implemented in the next decade or sooner. As with originality, this criterion will be judged on a continuum. The author is encouraged to describe how the proposal is likely to be received by Hill staff and officials of relevant agencies and the basis for that description. Proposals that – in the judgment of the Committee or the Board of Governors – would generate controversy or be opposed by stakeholders will rank lower on this criterion. So would proposals to make sweeping changes in fundamental laws or systems.

Q: How closely must a proposal conform to legislative style and format?

A: To be eligible for the Award, a proposal must be presented as an amendment to pertinent legislation or offer a viable new legislative proposal. Thus legislative language embodying the proposal – including revisions to various rules that would be secondarily affected - must be included in the submission. Nevertheless, an entry will not be judged on how closely it conforms to the idiosyncratic formatting rules followed by House and Senate Legislative Counsel. What is important is that the submission demonstrate that the concepts have been thought through in enough detail to show that the people proposing it understand the technical details and implications. Whether or not the proposal could, as it stands, be acted upon as formal legislative language, it must include potential statutory text for each of the legislative changes needed and describe the changes carefully enough so that policy makers and their staff can make informed judgments about their likely effect.

So, for example, a proposal that would require changes to both ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code would fall short if it only addresses one of those statutes, but so long as it identifies the need for comparable changes where the laws overlap and generally cites the provisions where the overlaps occur, it need not necessarily walk through every point at which identical modifications would be needed in both of them.

The submission should identify the proposed effective date and any associated transition rules. It should also list the substantive (i.e., not definitional) regulations that would have to be added or modified if the proposal is adopted.

Q. Should one proposal cover all of the possible impacts of or limitations on a simplification concept?

A: A proposal should describe its intended coverage fully, for instance, whether, in order to be effective, it would need or likely prompt changes in laws outside of employee benefits, such as financial regulation or equal employment rules. On the other hand, if the proposed changes are not universally appropriate, the proposal should identify their limits. For instance, should they apply to both pension and profit sharing plans? Multiemployer, governmental and tax-exempt organizations’ plans, as well as standard corporate plans? If an otherwise attractive proposal might be problematic for a distinct part of the employee benefit universe, that should be identified and an exclusion included.

Q: The rules indicate that the benefits of the simplification proposal should be quantified. Does that mean budgetary cost estimates or a detailed cost/benefit analysis must be included?

A: No. The College does not expect budgetary analyses like those performed by the Joint Committee on Taxation or the Congressional Budget Office with respect to congressional actions. Submissions are, however, asked to identify the net benefits of proposed changes and to quantify them to the extent possible. This should include a consideration of cost savings or cost increases to plan sponsors, participants, the government, or other stakeholders.

Q: What are the procedures for submissions with multiple authors?

A: Informal groups of individuals are welcome to collaborate on a submission. A group must identify all individuals collaborating on a submission and must designate one individual as the lead contact. Because no information identifying the author or authors should be included in any submission, the email address, mailing address, and telephone number of each author should also be provided in the cover email making the submission. The Award will be paid to the lead contact, unless otherwise specified by the group. [See below for discussion of travel expenses.]

Q: Will the Award winner be reimbursed for expenses to travel to the annual dinner?

A: Yes, in accordance with the College’s existing procedures, reasonable and customary travel expenses (including travel, up to two night’s hotel, and meals) will be reimbursed for the Award recipient. If there are multiple authors, expenses will only be reimbursed for the lead contact identified when the submission was made, unless another author is specified by the group.

Q: Is an Award winner required to attend the annual dinner in order to receive the Award?

A: No.

Q: Preparation of a compelling competition entry can be very time consuming and some potential contestants may be reluctant to submit an entry without an assurance that they have a realistic possibility of winning the contest. Could the contest procedure be modified to allow the author(s) to request a pre-submission evaluation of the merit of the basic idea?

A: The Committee appreciates the significant effort necessary for any individual to make a submission in the Simplification Award competition. However, we do not believe it would be appropriate to pre-judge or provide feedback without seeing a full submission. There will certainly be situations in which an idea which, on its face, does not seem promising, turns out on fuller treatment to be an exciting idea, and vice versa. In any event, the Simplification Award process aims to encourage the development of as many new and achievable simplification ideas as possible. Each year, submissions are judged based on the criteria identified in the rules of the competition. Potential applicants are urged to consider the merit of their proposals based on those criteria and, where appropriate, author(s) should specifically address how their proposal satisfies those criteria.

Of course, in any given year more than one submission will likely have merit, but one in particular may be deemed superior to the others based on the criteria established for this particular competition. That judgement is necessarily subjective and is arrived at through the deliberation of a Simplification Award Committee which is composed of a cross-section of Fellows in the College. The fact that one submission is selected does not necessarily mean that other submissions were without merit. Individuals who have submitted in prior years are encouraged to resubmit their original or modified submissions. Moreover, consistent with the purpose of the College to advance the public's understanding of the practice of employee benefits law, authors who believe in the merits of their simplification proposals are encouraged to consider other avenues for placing their ideas in the public domain, e.g., through publication of their ideas.