Congress grills Thrift board

Thrift Savings Plan site

With one congressman stating a "crisis of confidence" in the Thrift Savings Plan, members of the House Government Reform committee leveled very pointed questions towards TSP administrators during a hearing on Thursday.

The crisis stems from the plan's June 16 launch of a new recordkeeping system that featured online application forms and daily account transactions. However, problems with the software caused the system to be slow and difficult to access.

This has developed into an overwhelming backlog of individual transactions. Thousands of participants have been unable to complete transactions online, and TSP has been unable to handle the flood of telephone and standard mail correspondence.

Several committee members relayed stories of constituents' hardships in dealing with TSP, and demanded direct solutions to the plan's severe difficulties with customer service.

TSP — a retirement and savings plan — includes three million federal employees who hold accounts worth more than $100 billion dollars.

"The bond of trust has been broken and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we restore federal employee's confidence in the TSP," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). "The TSP is faced with a crisis of confidence in this system."

In response, TSP administrators downplayed the percentage of participants affected, and stated that the system's Web site problems have been corrected and the backlog should be cleared up within the next month.

Andrew Saul, chairman of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, pointed out that problems in loan repayment and transferring funds involved only "9,000 participants' transactions, from a universe of three million participants." After acknowledging a backlog of approximately 70,000 forms as of late last week, Saul declared that the backlog would be cleared up in "three to four weeks".

Saul admitted TSP mistakes in its initial, if somewhat delayed, response to the situation.

"When you go live with a system of this size, there are bound to be certain problems which did not occur in testing," Saul said. "The mistake we made was that when this thing was backing up we didn't throw enough resources into it. We just did not have enough people to enter all of this paperwork."

To help solve the backlog, TSP has contracted two sites — one in Virginia and Alabama — to handle the paperwork and perform manual data entry operations. TSP officials also stated several methods to deal with the backlog, including extended data entry work shifts, adding additional personnel in the areas of data entry and telephone service and extending customer service hours.

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