TSP system now working, exec says

Participants can access their Thrift Savings Plan accounts by telephone or the Internet, and a huge backlog of unprocessed TSP loan applications and other paperwork has been virtually eliminated, TSP's executive director told its governing board Monday.

Gary Amelio, TSP's executive director, said a data communications glitch caused the retirement plan's Web problems during the two weeks after its mid-June launch. The site's new systems include the interactive Web interface and a mainframe for daily processing of transactions for the nearly 3.2 million federal employee and retiree participants.

The changeover to daily processing and the Web site problems contributed to a dramatic increase in telephone calls. Daily call volume increased from 3,700 in early June to 37,000 during July, and on some days the TSP received more than 100,000 calls. The increase overwhelmed the telephone system, especially because most callers wanted to speak to a customer service agent instead of using the automated response system, Amelio told the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

The number of incoming phone lines has been increased from 400 to 700, but phone service is "still a little slow or sluggish," Amelio said. An estimated 2,000 to 4,000 TSP participants still have account problems related to the changeover, he said. Most of those problems will be fixed in four to six weeks, he said.

He said he could not promise that problems might not recur sporadically, but the system is working well fundamentally, he said.

There has been some discussion of reimbursing participants for financial losses they may have suffered during the two months of technical problems associated with the plan's systems, Amelio said. For example, the plan may restore lost earnings to a participant whose account was not properly credited with a loan repayment or contribution, he said.

The TSP does not intend, however, to reimburse people for so-called "consequential" damages, which are losses suffered by participants because of TSP delays or errors, such as a loan check that wasn't received, causing the intended recipient to be evicted from a home.

"Those kinds of requests will be denied," said Amelio, who noted that the board has received only three formal requests for reimbursements related to the systems problems.

Amelio said he does not know why those with accounts in the federal employee retirement savings plan, which resembles a private-sector 401(k) plan, opt not to use the automated phone system, which offers most of the functionality that a human operator can provide. But soon he plans to force more of them to use the automated system first before reaching a live operator.

The agency will keep adding more phone lines and will make sure that callers get an occasional recorded message to assure them that they have not been forgotten while holding for an operator, Amelio said. He added that TSP may add a second call center to spread the workload and is considering a tollfree number for participants to use when calling about accounts.

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