A controversial project to put hundreds of thousands of government retirees’ pension data on the Internet is virtually dead.
CalPERS spokesman Brad Pacheco said Monday that the fund’s staff, which came up with the idea in July, would recommend killing the plan at the retirement fund’s February board meeting.
“After many discussions with our stakeholders and partners,” Pacheco said in an emailed response a Bee inquiry about the pension database, “we have come to better understand their concerns about posting this public information in a secure database on the CalPERS website.”
Although the news prompted at least one retiree group that had fought the project to stand down, state Sen. Jim Beall said the issue yet could yet surface in the Senate Public Employees and Retirement Committee, which he chairs.
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“Government transparency is important. Personal privacy is important. It’s a balancing act,” Beall, D-San Jose, said in a Monday evening telephone interview. “So I’m going to talk to my colleagues and see what we want to do.”
Retirees last July blasted CalPERS after The Sacramento Bee reported that the fund was days away from launching a searchable online database that would include pensioners' names, their gross monthly pension payments, years of service and other information considered public record.
Leaders of the 1.7 million-member pension fund said at the time that the data’s integrity would be better protected on its own website than on external sites kept by other organizations, sometimes for political purposes. At least one group that wants to alter public pension benefits has used retiree data it received to build a website featuring only six-figure pensions.
Retiree advocates worried that making the information so easily available would invite predators to scam vulnerable seniors. Talk of lawsuits and legislation ensued. Amid the controversy, CalPERS suspended the the project’s launch.
Pacheco said staff will tell the CalPERS’ board next month “that we no longer believe the intended benefits of posting the database on our website outweigh the risks and concerns to our members and that we should not move forward with our previous plans.” The fund will continue responding to Public Records Act requests as it always has, he said.
On Monday, one retiree group said it was satisfied with the CalPERS recommendation to kill the website project.
“We will no longer seek the legislative hearings,” said Tim Behrens, president of California State Retirees, “as long as CalPERS agrees not to launch the database.”