The Washington Post reports that the agency didn't actually spend its way into such a loss. Rather, its long-term liabilities soared following its takeover of several giant, failing pension plans. In addition, the agency's stock portfolio performed poorly.
The combination of those factors, plus a further boost in liabilities for technical reasons related to current low interest rates, shifted the agency from a $7.73 billion surplus at the end of fiscal 2001 to a $3.64 billion deficit on Sept. 30, according to the Post.
The losses from failed or failing pension plans totaled $9.31 billion, with most of that amount - $7.1 billion - coming from takeovers of the pensions of Bethlehem, National and LTV steel companies.
PBGC officials said their agency's assets remain adequate to pay promised benefits for "a number of years."
"I would not call it a crisis," said PBGC Executive Director Steven A. Kandarian.
He added, though, that the numbers highlight the need for changes in the system to improve protections for America's pensioners. He noted that the agency is closely monitoring "a number of large highly underfunded plans" that it might be required to take over, adding still further to its liabilities.
The Post reports that while he declined to name those plans, they're assumed to include those of bankrupt US Airways - which already has confirmed that it plans to terminate its pilots' pension plan - and United Airlines.
Employer and labor groups agreed with Kandarian that today's benefits are not in danger.
"They have ample assets to carry them through for any number of years," said Mark Ugoretz, president of the ERISA Industry Committee, a group of large employers.
Still, according to the Post, Bush administration officials and some outside pension experts have become increasingly concerned that the PBGC's premium structure encourages shaky companies to offer pension benefits they may not be able to afford.
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Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that insures workers' pensions, has reported an $11.37 billion loss for last year - the largest in its 28-year history.