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Photo of Kathleen P. Utgoff

Kathleen P. Utgoff, PBGC Director 1985-89

In its 40-year history, PBGC has had 14 agency directors, including current Director Josh Gotbaum. One among them stands out, however. With Women's History Month underway, Retirement Matters features former agency director Kathleen P. Utgoff.

Among a dozen wood-framed portraits on the 12th floor of the agency's Washington, DC headquarters, one photo stands out. That's because the image depicts the only female ever to serve as PBGC's executive director.

Installed as the agency's seventh director during the Reagan administration, Utgoff led PBGC from 1985 to 1989. When her term ended, who knew that in 40 years of protecting America's pensions, her photo would be the only woman's to grace that wall of fame of former directors?

As the agency celebrates both National Women's History Month with the 2014 theme of Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment, as well as PBGC's 40th anniversary with its theme of Celebrating the Past, Securing the Future, Retirement Matters thought it'd be a good idea to dust off some old Rolodexes and introduce, or in some cases reintroduce Utgoff to PBGC, which she calls "a jewel among agencies."

Cartoon representation of Kathleen P. Utgoff in front of sign reading PBGC Renovation Project. Project Engineer: Kathleen P Utgoff

Reprinted with permission, Business Insurance 1989. © Crain Communications, Inc.

In a 1989 cartoon (pictured left), cartoonist Roger Schillerstrom of Business Insurance depicts Utgoff at the completion of her term. She touted the PBGC Renovation Project as one of her biggest accomplishments.

Some plan participants may have been introduced to the agency under Utgoff's reign, but for those who have no idea who she is, here's "herstory."

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Ladies enjoying wine and each others company.

Every March we celebrate the profound impact women continue to have on American and world history. While Women's History Month is usually the designated time of year to robustly commemorate the contributions women have made to society, we also think it's a good time to take a look at the state of women's retirement security. After all, life after retirement is very important to "women's history."

First, let's be clear, the retirement picture is dismal for both men and women. But compared to men, women's retirement security is often less than adequate.

The United States Department of Labor reports married women tend to outlive their spouses by two years once they reach age 65 — that's two whole years of additional savings needed to cover the cost of living expenses that some do not factor in. Women also tend to take a more conservative approach when it comes to saving for retirement. Simply put, women do not invest in high-risk stocks because of the volatility of the stock market.

Another factor contributing to the bleak retirement outlook is women often delay saving for retirement. The Department of Labor also reports only 45 percent of the 62 million salaried women working in the United States contribute to a retirement plan.

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40th anniversary logo

PBGC was just getting started when Vietnam was winding down, President Nixon resigned, the NFL granted a franchise to Seattle, and Americans preferred avocado green kitchen appliances over anything that color on four wheels.

When we started, we churned out plans and memos and reports from typewriters and could smoke on the job, and pensions still seemed to be almost as solidly American as basketball, jazz, and poker.

In the distance, however, the sunrise of change was already hinting at dusk.

Events and crises, economic disruptions and volatility triggered a shift in how pensions were viewed — morphing from promises and pledges that were "solid" to being cast as liabilities on balance sheets. During 40 years our creativity and resourcefulness have been challenged, keyed on what tools we can use to protect Americans.

As we look at our 40 years to see where we came from and how our mission has been steadfast in changing dynamics, here is what part of our world was like when PBGC — as well as 21 of our current employees — was born.

The nation had never seen anything like us: an agency dedicated to saving pensions and protecting those about to lose pensions.

We were then, and we still are.

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United We Stand at No. 19

  |   February 27, 2014

The United States maintained its retirement security ranking at 19th — the same from last year — among 150 nations analyzed by Natixis Global Retirement Index.

For overall retirement security, the U.S. remains behind the majority of countries in Western Europe and Canada, and ahead only of Israel on the list of the top 20 nations.

Natixis measures the quality of life for people in their retirement years based on 20 measures of health, wealth, quality of life, and material well-being that affect people's retirement security.

Read the full Natixis report: 2014 Global Retirement Index.

Col. Charles McGee

Col. Charles McGee delivers keynote address at PBGC'S Black History Month Celebration.

On Feb. 11, 2014, PBGC staff witnessed living black history as the agency's Chapter of Blacks in Government (BIG) and the Special Emphasis Program (SEP) hosted the annual Black History Month program. With the national theme in mind, Civil Rights in America, this year's program was widely deemed one of the greatest in PBGC history.

Col. Charles McGee, an original, and now retired, member of the Tuskegee Airmen delivered the keynote address to the agency's staff as they filled the building's training institute in celebration of Black History Month. McGee's career in the legendary all-black 332nd Fighter Group-12th Air Force began in 1944. He is among the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed forces.

During WWII black pilots were trained at a segregated air base in Tuskegee, Ala., and became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. At the helm of P-39 fighters they flew hundreds of patrol and attack missions, and were also used to escort B-17 and B-24 bombers. The airmen were portrayed in the 2012 motion picture, "Red Tails," produced by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. The Red Tails nickname came from the ruby-toned tails of the airmen's planes.

In his address, McGee recounted the struggles he and his fellow soldiers faced as African Americans in the Air Force. Throughout World War II, African Americans in a number of U.S. states were subject to Jim Crow laws and all branches of the military were racially segregated. But these obstacles didn't stop McGee and his peers from stepping up and fighting for freedom at home and abroad. He stressed the "Three Ps," which helped to shape his illustrious career as a Tuskegee Airman: persevere, prepare, and perform. "Excellence should always be your goal," McGee said.

On Jan. 31, 1973, McGee retired from the Air Force after 30 years of military service.

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PBGC ACSI Benchmarks for U.S. Federal Government 2013. 90 in Benefits Recipients, #3. 74 in Regulatory, #9. 87 in Information Providers, #2.

We at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation challenge each other each day to better serve the public in every way possible. We like to think we succeed — and now we are pleased that many of you agree.

PBGC received the fourth best score in a study of citizen satisfaction with federal government service, garnering a score of 90 in a report released on January 28. This puts us at levels of user satisfaction similar to high-performing private sector companies.

We achieved a similar breakout status in the same report a year ago.

The aggregate mark across the federal government was 66.1, close to the all-time low.

The 2013 ACSI report on citizen satisfaction is based on interviews with 1,448 users, chosen at random and contacted via telephone and email between October 11 and December 8, 2013. Respondents are asked to evaluate their recent experiences with federal government services.

Read the full ACSI Report on U.S. Federal Government 2013. (PDF)