Former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will be advising Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on retirement issues, the DOL confirmed today.
Kennedy Townsend is the founder of Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives and was chair of Maryland’s task force on retirement security, which led to the state’s enactment of an automatic IRA system in 2016. That program, for which she is a board member, is expected to begin its pilot phase later this year or early in 2022.
She has been an adjunct professor at Georgetown since 2007 and most recently was a managing director at global investment manager The Rock Creek Group. Kennedy Townsend is the executive director of Retirement for All, a foundation supporting retirement reform, and she was previously director of retirement security at the Economic Policy Institute. She also currently serves on numerous boards.
“For years, my mission has been to protect pensions and build a retirement system that makes it possible for working Americans to retire with financial security,” she said in a statement. “As the secretary’s representative on pensions and retirement, I am convinced that together we can make real and lasting strides to achieve these goals that support the dignity of work.”
Kennedy Townsend is the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and served as lieutenant governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003.
Her appointment comes at a time when the Department of Labor is moving forward with numerous retirement initiatives, including its fiduciary rule and forthcoming rules that will affect the use of environmental, social and governance investment criteria in 401(k)s and pensions.
Currently the DOL division overseeing those efforts, the Employee Benefits Security Administration is led on an interim basis by Ali Khawar. In July, President Joe Biden nominated Lisa Gomez for that role on a permanent basis, and she is currently awaiting Senate confirmation.
Kennedy Townsend’s role includes responsibility for “elevating the retirement issues that are central to President Biden’s agenda, the American Rescue Plan and the American Jobs Plan,” a DOL spokesperson said in an email. “The position primarily works with local elected officials, businesses and other stakeholders to highlight these issues.”
“Kathleen is a good choice because she is pragmatic. The retirement industry works somewhat well for people in higher income brackets, steady jobs, non-conflicted advice and stable lives with generous employers who always contribute to a 401(k),” labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci said in an email. “People with defined-benefit plans also have a good security. The crisis facing our nation is that the majority of workers have no significant retirement savings.”
Kennedy Townsend “will surely want to build on Social Security and make sure that all Americans have a well-designed system for retirement savings,” Ghilarducci said.
Given the initiatives many states have undertaken to develop or launch auto IRA programs, Kennedy Townsend’s experience in that area is significant.
“Kathleen is a tireless champion for strengthening the retirement readiness of millions of Americans workers, including the adoption of state-facilitated retirement savings programs, and she will be a great asset to DOL,” Angela Antonelli, executive director of Georgetown CRI, said in an email.
The architect of federal auto IRA legislation during the Obama presidency, Mark Iwry, said in an email that Kennedy Townsend would likely champion a similar initiative, in addition to building on state-facilitated auto IRA programs.
“Kathleen is a dedicated advocate for working people who would bring outstanding talent and experience to any senior government position,” said Iwry, a former senior adviser to the secretary of the Treasury for national retirement and health policy and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and visiting scholar at the Wharton school.
The Insured Retirement Institute’s chief government and political affairs officer, Paul Richman, said in a statement that the industry group is looking forward to working with Kennedy Townsend, who “has studied and knows the challenges and obstacles that America’s workers and retirees face in building a nest egg to achieve a secure and dignified retirement.”
“More importantly, she will bring a unique perspective in advising Secretary Walsh, given her government, academia and business experience,” Richman said.
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