Trump nominates brother-in-law of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and Transportation Secretary Chao to run pension agency

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump nominated Gordon Hartogensis as director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
  • Hartogensis is the brother-in-law of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
  • The agency he would lead provides retirement benefits to more than 800,000 people whose own pension plans failed.
Gordon Hartogensis
Patrick McMullan | Getty Images

President Donald Trump has nominated Gordon Hartogensis, the brother-in-law of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, to head the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The White House's announcement about the nomination of the Connecticut resident does not mention his family relationship with Chao or McConnell, the senior Republican senator from Kentucky. Nor does it mention his current job or his past employers by name.

Hartogensis, 47, is married to one of Chao's sisters, Grace Chao. His nomination to replace current Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. Director W. Thomas Reeder is subject to Senate approval.

The agency, which is part of the Labor Department, pays monthly retirement benefits to more than 800,000 retirees from nearly 5,000 pension plans that failed.

Hartogensis' current job title is not listed in the nomination announcement, which nonetheless says he has the qualifications to lead an agency that is currently running a large deficit in one of its two major programs.

The White House's official announcement about Hartogensis says he is "an investor and technology sector leader with experience managing financial equities, bonds, private placements, and software development."

White House nepotism

When asked to elaborate on Hartogensis' qualifications, a White House official who requested anonymity said that the appointee has a background in a variety of business roles, including entrepreneur and chief technology officer, but that his most recent role as an investment manager "makes him uniquely qualified to run the PBGC."

"Since 2013, PBGC's deficit has doubled, and he will use his strong business skills to put the PBGC back on a firm financial footing," the official said.

Hartogensis's LinkedIn page identifies him as having been, for almost the past seven years, a trustee of the Hartogensis Family Trust in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he resides.

Before that, he spent almost eight years as CEO and co-founder of Auric Technology, which sells a customer relations workflow software program. Auric did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hartogensis holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Stanford University and a master's degree in technology management from Columbia University.

The agency that he is nominated to lead operates two separate insurance programs, one for single-employer pension plans and one for plans that were originally covered by several employers.

In testimony to Congress last fall, its current director, Reeder, noted that the single-employer program in fiscal 2017 was running a deficit of $10.9 billion, or about half the deficit seen in the prior year.

That program, which had liabilities of $117.1 billion and assets of $106.2 billion, is projected to be out of deficit in 2022.

"In sharp contrast," Reeder noted in his prepared testimony, "the Multiemployer Program had liabilities of $67.3 billion and assets of only $2.3 billion, resulting in a $65.1 billion deficit."