Benefit plan administrators need more time to figure out how to use the government’s electronic report filing system, according to the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries (ASPPA).

The U.S. Labor Department, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. began taking Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF benefit plan reporting forms in through the EFAST2 electronic filing system in January 2010. Employers and plan administrators are now supposed to file almost all Form 5500 and Form 5500-SF reports through the system.

Many 2009 plan year reports will be due Oct. 15, and ASPPA, Arlington, Va., is asking the agencies to extend the filing deadline until Dec. 31.

The EFAST2 system itself seems to be operating about as expected, but many “filing signers” are accidentally registering as ordinary users rather than as signers, and some practitioners are having trouble getting through the registration process at all, Peter Gould, chair of the ASPPA government affairs committee, and other APPA officials write in a letter to officials at the IRS and the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA).

Some retirement plan administration software firms have been slow to update their products to reflect the EFAST2 changes, and revisions to the Schedule C business tax form have increased the amount of time practitioners need to collect data and prepare forms, officials say.

“Nearly all of these issues apply only to this transition year and are primarily due to the learning curve being compressed into an extremely short time frame,” ASPPA officials say. “The expectation is that next year will go much more smoothly after all concerned parties have had the benefit of the prior year’s worth of experience.”

The federal agencies should provide transitional relief this year by granting the ASPPA request for an extension, ASPPA officials say.

When employers try to meet filing deadlines but miss the deadlines anyway, the agencies should be generous with waivers of late-filing penalties, officials say.