One year and nine months after President Carter announced its creation, a blue ribbon committee on pension policy held its first formal meeting yesterday. But the swearing in ceremonies and organizational arrangements were hardly over when the President's Commission on Pension Policy ran into its first storm signal.
In his inaugural statement, commission chief C. Peter McColough, chairman of the board of Xerox Corp., stressed that the panel's methods of study and outlook were longrange. "Generally, at this time, I do not anticipate that the commission will address short-term retirement income issues," he said.
But the lead-off witness, Ewa Bielski, called on the commission to develop ways to help "this generation of retirees, the people who won't be helped by future changes simply because they have already lost out. We think you should consider short-lived programs that would provide for this group of people immediately," she added.
Bielski, a Grosse Points fashion industry worker who was discharged just before she became eligible for a pension, chairs the Citizens' Commission of Pension Policy. This group, formed at the urging of consumer activist Ralph Nader, represents either people who have lost their pensions or those who work closely with "pension losers." The Citizens' Commission intends to monitor the President's Commission.
Most other wintnesses on the first day represented plan organizers and administrators. The ERISA Industry Committee, whose members constitute an association of some 100 major corporations with retirement plans, called on the commission to study incenitves for the extension of private pension plans.
The National Small Business Association, half of whose members do not have any private pension plans, would like the commission to consider not only benefits from private plans and Social Security, but also the impact of inflation on private means in setting aside income for retirement.
The Association of Private Pension and Welfare Plans would like legisltive relief from the "burdens" imposed by ERISA, the pension reform act fo 1974.
The idea of a pension policy commission lay dormant for a year after Carter announced it while Charles Kirbo, a personal friend of Carter, toyed with the idea of serving as chairman. In the end he declined and the president selected McColough, a political friend of Robert Strauss, Carter's special trade representative.
The mandate for the two year, $2 million study decrees a comprehensive review of existing retirement programs, development of national policies as guidelines for public and private plans. It also calls for a look at overlaps and gaps among programs for retired and disabled persons, the financial health of pension systems, and the role of pension plans in private capital formation.
In discussing the commission's scope, chairman McColough said, "In many ways I feel like some of the energy experts who testified before Congress 20 years ago. They forecast great difficulty for this country if the problems they were dealing with were not addressed in a timely way.I believe that this country has the ability to maintain an enlightened system of retirement income. But, the handwriting is on the wall if we ignore the problem."
The 10 other presidentially appointed commissioners include former Michigan Congresswoman Martha Griffiths, University of the District of Columbia president Lisle Carter, Georgetown University Law School professor Paul Dean and Maryland State Senator James Clark.
The others are William Greenough, chairman of a New York City teachers' pension fund, Arthur Andersen & Co. chairman Harvey Kapnick, Tennessee State Representative John Bragg, iron workers union president John Lyons, Atlanta attorney Henry Bowden, and California law professor Dorothy Nelson.