TSP anticipation

Thrift Savings Plan

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"Singing the blues"

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board once again has announced a two-month delay in the implementation of the Thrift Savings Plan's new recordkeeping system. At this point, I've lost track of the number of delays that have been announced. I wonder if this is the last.

In a news release, the board said it will "firm up the schedule over the next month based on the results of ongoing data conversion and system testing." Your guess is as good as mine as to what that means. "Its implementation is being delayed in order to ensure that all of its functions are fully tested in parallel with the operation of the current recordkeeping system, using actual participant data submissions," the board went on to say. I think similar language was used to explain a delay when the first contractor still held the contract.

Last year, the board fired the original contractor, American Management Systems Inc., and publicly criticized it for failing to deliver the new system. The board and AMS are locked in a court battle over the failed contract, and the board is seeking $350 million in damages from AMS.

The board then hired a new contractor — Materials, Communication and Computers Inc. — and claims that it delivered the new system on time and within budget, but the board still wants to do additional testing to guarantee reliability. We all know that delivering a system that's not tested or that's inadequately tested is tantamount to failure to deliver the system on time. But is this an excuse for another failure?

The board adds that parallel testing has not yet been conducted "because the conversion of TSP participant records created since the plan's inception in 1987, a prerequisite for such testing and ultimately for implementation, has taken longer than expected." It's been quite a while since I last designed a system, but if data conversion and parallel testing haven't been conducted yet, I expect we'll all have long, gray beards by the time the system is operational.

A reader recently asked me whether it would make sense to take the board to court and sue it for squandering taxpayer dollars. I told him probably not, but now I am beginning to reconsider. If nothing else, it sure would put a lot of heat on the board and make them straighten up and fly right! Such an undertaking would best be handled by someone with deep pockets, such as an employees' union or the Senior Executives Association.

They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and I guess this one does as well. The new system, once implemented, will permit feds to move their money in and out of various funds within the Thrift Savings Plan. Can you imagine how most feds would have fared during the past few years — in the miserable stock market environment that we find ourselves in — if they had had that capability?

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at [email protected]

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