Thrift Savings Web problems questioned

One congressman described a crisis of confidence in the Thrift Savings Plan as members of the House Government Reform Committee interrogated TSP administrators during a lengthy hearing July 24.

The crisis began after the TSP's June 16 launch of a new recordkeeping system that features online applications and daily transactions. The TSP is a retirement and savings plan holding 3 million federal employees' accounts, which are worth more than $100 billion.

Software problems slowed the Web system and created access difficulties, which yielded an overwhelming backlog of transactions. Thousands of participants have been unable to complete transactions, and TSP employees have been unable to handle the flood of telephone calls and mail correspondence.

Several committee members relayed stories of constituents' hardships in dealing with the system, and demanded answers and solutions to the customer service problems.

"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."

Administrators downplayed the percentage of participants affected. They said the system's problems have been corrected and that the backlog should be cleared within a month.

Andrew Saul, chairman of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, said problems repaying loans and transferring funds involved only "9,000 participants' transactions from a universe of 3 million participants." After acknowledging a backlog of approximately 70,000 forms as of late last week, he said it would be cleared up in three to four weeks.

He said TSP officials made mistakes in their initial — if somewhat delayed — response to the situation.

"The mistake we made was that when this thing was backing up, we didn't throw enough resources into it."

To help resolve the backlog, TSP officials have contracted with two sites, in Virginia and Alabama, to handle all of the paperwork and perform data entry operations. They also described several other methods for dealing with the backlog, including such activities as extending data entry work shifts, adding personnel for data entry, and extending telephone service and customer service hours.

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