The Public Retirement Research Lab

In 2020, NAGDCA and the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) launched the Public Retirement Research Lab (PRRL). This collaborative project created a first-of-its-kind database for public sector defined contribution retirement plan information, which is used as a primary source of information for cutting-edge retirement research.

Click below to: access information to share with your Board or Committee to help communicate the concept of the PRRL, complete the authorization form to participate, view an introductory webinar, and access the data and research library.

How It Works

Click on each step to learn more.

Plan Sponsor Benefits

Click each benefit to learn more.

FREE to Participating Plans


NAGDCA is partnering with the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) to build a public sector defined contribution database and research center. The database will only contain investment and demographic data from 457(b), 401(a), 403(b), and government 401(k) plans. No private sector data will be included. The database will serve as the primary data resource for the public sector retirement industry, and the PRRL will generate industry-level research.

As a participant you receive the benefits listed in the “Plan Sponsor Benefits” section above. You will also have access to a wealth of information and research to improve your plan’s performance. Finally, you will contribute to helping NAGDCA advocate for your interests at the federal level.

EBRI — a nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization — was created in 1978 for the purpose of contributing to sound employee benefit programs and public policy through independent, objective, fact-based research and education. To learn more about them, please click here.

For decades, EBRI has successfully maintained a secure database containing 401(k) data for tens of millions of participants. The 401(k) industry has used these data to conduct research to create better outcomes for private sector participants. NAGDCA is partnering with EBRI to leverage this experience, and create a primary data resource for public sector plans.

We have two goals with this project. The first is to provide our members with the highest quality benchmarking data and research available so you can make informed decisions to improve your plan. The second is to minimize the workload for plan sponsors, their staff, and their service providers during this process.

Plan sponsors can authorize their recordkeeper to provide your plan’s data directly to the database at any time. For an expanded description, please see the “How it Works” section above.

Your data security is our top priority. Your plan’s data will be completely masked by your record keeper before it is sent to the database. This will ensure total security for your plan.

For the transfer itself, only encrypted data will be sent to the database, and no personally identifiable information will be sent. This includes social security numbers, employee ID numbers, names, birth dates, job titles, address, location, or any other piece of information that can be used to identify any individual. 

The following is a detailed description of the data transfer process:

Phase 1: at Third Party provider

  • Generate encryption key
  • Distribute encryption key to data provider
  • Details:
    • Third Party generates hash key on secure, dedicated system
    • The key is sent from Third Party to the data provider via secure method using an encrypted file
    • At no point, does Third Party receive any data
    • The encryption key never goes to EBRI or NAGDCA

Phase 2: at Data Provider

  • Implements hash algorithm – extracts data files
  • Transfers data file to database
  • Details:
    • Decrypts package from Third Party to extract encryption key
    • Implements masking protocol: runs real ssn value through HMAC-SHA256 algorithm and encryption key, resulting in 64 character hash value
    • Combines 64 character hash value with data files
    • Real ssn value, along with any personally identifiable data is deleted from data files before it is sent to the PRRL
    • The encryption key never goes to EBRI or NAGDCA – Third Party available for implementation support
    • The data files are transferred from data provider to PRRL via secure method. FTP transfer of encrypted file is preferred method

Phase 3: at PRRL

  • Manipulates final data files
  • Produces analytic deliverables
  • Details:
    • Decrypts package from data provider to extract data files containing standard 64 character hashed id
    • Re-encrypts hashed value with an EBRI proprietary key
    • Manipulate data and process analytical results on segregated & secure system
    • At no point, does PRRL receive encryption key used by providers

While participant-level data will not be directly accessible for security purposes, plan-level data will still be available to participating plans through the NAGDCA secure data portal. Furthermore, participant-level insights will be available to participating plans through reports and analysis as described in the “Plan Sponsor Benefits” section above.

Unlike our benchmarking survey, both participant-level and plan-level data will be collected in this database.

The following is a list of variables the PRRL will seek (subject to availability):

Participant Level Data:

Most Recent Demographic Information

    1. age
    2. gender
    3. tenure (if available)
    4. salary (if available)

Fund Information

    1. fund-specific information on asset allocation for current year contributions
    2. fund specific information on asset allocation for aggregate account balances for beginning and end of plan year
    3. loan balance and withdrawal activity

Defined Contribution Plan Level Data:

Plan design information — this would include qualitative plan information on:

    1. Automatic Enrollment & Escalation
    2. Default investments
    3. Effective dates
    4. Time periods for escalation
    5. Match rate
    6. Maximum amount of compensation matched
    7. Plan limits on deferrals
    8. Non-elective contributions
    9. Plan inception date
    10. Roth provisions
    11. Employer match formula
    12. Loan provisions
    13. Early fund withdrawal provisions
    14. Other defined contribution plan information

Click here for detailed instructions for authorizing the transfer of data from your recordkeeper to the PRRL database. It’s easy and takes about 5 minutes to fill out!

The PRRL will produce independent research throughout the year.

Click here to view the data and research library.

NAGDCA has housed plan-level survey results from it Benchmarking Survey in an online portal since 2016. The purpose of the portal is to offer an interactive platform for plan sponsors to have the opportunity to compare their plan-level data to their peers directly. The portal allows for comparisons based on dozens of plan-level characteristics that can be combined in any way the sponsor chooses. The portal cannot be used to see the data from a single plan other than your own, as any search resulting in the aggregation of data from less than five plans shows “Insignificant Data”.

In the new process, PRRL researchers will securely export plan-level data directly to the portal, replacing the current Benchmarking Survey format.

The “You v. Universe” report is a detailed benchmarking report comparing your participants to the universe of public sector defined contribution participants. This is a truly unique report, in that it combines balances, contributions, and asset allocations across plans and record keepers. This provides the first-ever look at how public employees save for retirement with different retirement structures.

Several recordkeepers in the government industry are actively working with NAGDCA and EBRI to develop the database. We are working with them to create a common format for the data requests so they are applied uniformly across recordkeeper systems. The data will be reviewed, cleaned, and organized by dedicated PRRL staff once it is received.

Your authorization will be required for participation in this project. If you need to discuss the project with your board, committee, or other approval authority to receive the necessary approval, we recommend starting those discussions soon. Please see the “PRRL Talking Points” button at the top of this page for a summary of points to share with your committee or board.

Please send all inquiries to Matt Petersen, NAGDCA Executive Director –