State's public pensions to get scrutiny in audit


HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's fiscal watchdog will audit the management of $78 billion in assets by the state's two big public employee retirement systems amid a federal investigation into fees paid to outside firms that invest billions of taxpayer dollars.

The announcement Monday by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale occurred four days after federal prosecutors announced charges against ex-state Treasurer Barbara Hafer and Richard Ireland, whose firm marketed the services of private investment managers and shared in the fees.

Lawyers for Hafer and Ireland say their clients are innocent.

DePasquale said the charges did not motivate the audit of the Public School Employees' Retirement System and the State Employees' Retirement System. Rather, the audit had been planned for some time, he said.

However, he suggested that the fees paid to private investment managers will be closely scrutinized.

“I'm really interested in the fees paid to outside managers when SERS and PSERS aren't coming even close to meeting their targets,” the Democratic auditor general said.

At another point, DePasquale said, “we're paying them a lot of money. What are we getting in return?”

PSERS reported $455 million in investment fees in its 2015 fiscal year, SERS reported paying $159 million and the state Treasury Department reported $12 million. All of SERS' nearly $26 billion in assets were invested by private firms, while the Treasury Department and PSERS manage some cash pools in-house.

All three agencies report that they are paying less in fees than they did in previous years. Meanwhile, PSERS and SERS said their compounded annualized investment performance had beaten their long-term goals of 7.5 percent over the last 30 years, after accounting for the fees.

All three agencies report that they are paying less in fees than they did in previous years.

Meanwhile, PSERS and SERS said their average investment performance had beaten their long-term goals of 7.5 percent over the last 30 years, after accounting for the fees.

Last year, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf sought to shave $200 million a year off the fees paid by SERS and PSERS. No bill to carry that out has come up for serious consideration in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

DePasquale said he had no independent information that taxpayer dollars were abused. But he said one goal of the audit is to determine whether the fees paid by SERS and PSERS were out of line with peers in other states.

Hafer, 72, a two-term Republican state treasurer, was charged with two counts of making false statements to federal agents when she was asked about payments of $500,000 to her consulting firm. The firm that allegedly made the payments to Hafer had shared in fees charged by private asset managers contracted by the Treasury Department while Hafer was in office.

Prosecutors said the payments began within weeks of Hafer leaving office in 2005.

Ireland allegedly tried to bribe another former treasurer, Rob McCord, with more than $500,000 in secret campaign contributions between 2009 and 2014. Ireland and “unindicted co-conspirators” had sought McCord's help in getting contracts from the Treasury Department and SERS, on whose board McCord sat.