The Employee Benefits Security Administration may write new rules relating to the independence of employee benefit plan accountants.

The U.S. Department of Labor, EBSA’s parent, wrote the current rules governing plan accountant independence in 1975, when it issued Interpretive Bulletin 75-9.

The current rules state that selling actuarial services to a plan does not necessarily impair a plan accounting firm’s independence.

Now EBSA is thinking about responding to changes in benefit plans and auditing practices by updating the independence rules.

EBSA has published a “request for information” on the topic, which includes a list of 15 multipart questions, today in the Federal Register.

Public comments on the topic are due Dec.11.

Questions include:

- “Should the [Labor] Department issue guidance that clarifies whether, and under what circumstances, financial interests held by an accountant’s family members are deemed to be held by the accountant or his or her accounting firm for independence purposes?”

- “Should the department define the terms ‘promoter,’ ‘underwriter,’ ‘investment advisor,’ ‘voting trustee,’ ‘director,’ ‘officer,’ and ‘employee of the plan or plan sponsor,’ as used in Interpretive Bulletin 75-97?”

- “What kinds of nonaudit services are accountants and accounting firms engaged to provide to the plans they audit or to the sponsor of plans they audit? Are there benefits for the plan or plan sponsor from entering into agreements to have the accountant or accounting firm provide nonaudit services and also perform the employee benefit plan audit?… Should the Department issue guidance on the circumstances under which the performance of nonaudit services by accountants and accounting firms for the plan or plan sponsor would be treated as impairing an accountant’s independence for purposes of auditing and rendering an opinion on the financial information required to be included in the plan’s annual report?”

- “What types and level of fees, payments, and compensation are accountants and accounting firms receiving from plans they audit and sponsors of plans they audit for audit and nonaudit services provided to the plan?”

A copy of the EBSA request for information is on the Web at Document Link