In the realm of pension management, accurate and timely updates on pensioners’ status are crucial for preventing overpayments and fraud. A recent white paper by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), authored under the guidance of Brooke Holmes, Deputy Inspector General, delves into the intricacies of mortality reporting in the United States and highlights the vital role of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF) in this process. This blog post aims to distill key points from the PBGC’s white paper, particularly focusing on the “Appendix: Understanding the Social Security Administration’s DMF Mortality Reporting Process in the United States,” to underscore the importance of employing mortality verification in pension management.

Protected Mortality Data and Reporting Mechanisms

The white paper begins by setting the context of mortality reporting in the United States, emphasizing that vital records, including mortality records, are protected under various federal, state, and local laws. About 93 percent of all mortality are reported through Vital Records Offices and subsequently loaded into the SSA’s Full DMF. This data is considered private and its access is limited to certain federal agencies, including the PBGC, which uses it as a primary resource for its Single Employer Mortality Matching Services.

The Role of Vital Records Offices

Vital Records Offices play a pivotal role in the mortality reporting ecosystem. These government agencies are tasked with registering vital events and safeguarding vital records. Their reporting of mortality to federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the SSA is a critical step in the process. However, the distribution of this data is highly regulated, ensuring that mortality information is shared only with authorized organizations and for specific purposes.

Social Security Administration’s Mortality Data Files

The SSA manages two main types of mortality data files: the Full DMF and the Public DMF. The Full DMF, which is sourced primarily from Vital Records Offices, is restricted to federal benefit-paying agencies. In contrast, the Public DMF contains mortality information that can be considered public record and is accessible under certain conditions. This distinction underscores the need for rigorous mortality verification to ensure pension payments are halted in a timely manner upon a retiree’s passing.

PBGC’s Use of SSA’s Full DMF

The PBGC’s access to the SSA’s Full DMF is instrumental in its efforts to prevent overpayments. By conducting computer mortality matching programs, the PBGC can identify deceased payees and take necessary actions to stop payments, thus mitigating the risk of fraud and overpayment. The white paper points out that, on average, the PBGC discovers about two percent of single employer payees are deceased, highlighting the efficacy and necessity of these audits.

The Growing Accuracy of the Full DMF

The white paper also notes the increasing accuracy and comprehensiveness of the SSA’s Full DMF, largely attributed to the adoption of the Electronic Death Registration System (EDR). With a significant portion of mortality reports now coming through this system, the Full DMF has become an even more reliable source for conducting mortality verification.



The PBGC’s white paper, through its detailed examination of the mortality reporting process and the pivotal role of the SSA’s DMF, illuminates the critical importance of mortality verification in pension management. By ensuring that pension payments are accurately administered and promptly ceased upon a retiree’s passing, pension funds can prevent overpayments and protect against fraud. As the mechanisms for mortality reporting continue to evolve and improve, so too will the strategies for maintaining the integrity of pension systems. This white paper serves as a crucial resource for understanding these dynamics and underscores the ongoing need for vigilance in pension management practices.