FRTIB Responds to Congresswoman’s Inquiry Into Problems With New TSP Website

One Congresswoman sought answers about problems related to the new TSP website and what was being done to fix them. This is the response she received.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that she has received a response to her recent inquiry regarding the ongoing problems with the new TSP website that federal employees and retirees are having after the rollout of the upgrades at the start of June.

Many FedSmith readers have commented on the various problems they have had with accessing their TSP accounts, establishing new account logins, and certainly dealing with long hold times when calling the customer support line. The TSP even launched a “known issues” page to highlight and explain some of the more frequently encountered problems.

Norton sent her original letter on June 10, 2022 asking for a response by the end of that week (June 17). To the credit of the Federal Retirement Investment Board (FRTIB), a response was sent quickly.

Copies of both Norton’s original letter and the FRTIB response letter are included at the end of this article.

Summary of the Letters

In her original letter, Norton said that she had personally been contacted by some of her constituents who said that they were unable to access their TSP information and investments and also could not get through to the TSP’s customer service helpline for assistance. She went on to ask the FRTIB chairman for an explanation of the cause of the problems and what was being done to fix them as well as steps the agency had taken to prepare for and roll out the new system.

A response was sent on June 17 to Norton’s office from FRTIB Executive Director Ravindra Deo. In his letter, Deo said that the agency anticipated that the transition would be “bumpy” but that it had gone to great lengths in planning the changes, having spent the last 18 months “in extensive and detailed planning for the conversion.”

TSP Call Center Delays

Deo said in the letter that the agency had expected a higher number of calls than usual after the rollout but also said that the call center still couldn’t keep up with the demand. In response, he said that an an additional 250 people have been added to call center staff since the start of June and also added, “We will continue to add staff to the Call Centers until we return to an excellent level of call center responsiveness.”

He also said that the call centers are making progress. He said, “While call hold times still remain too long, they are falling. We will continue to hold the contractor accountable and report on this and other issues to the Board during our public meetings as we always have.”

New TSP Website Login Problems

Deo also said that while a number of TSP participants have experienced problems with the new login process, it has improved. He said that there were more problems encountered by participants at the start of the month when the changes were first launched, but now users successfully complete the process 90% of the time.

Deo also said that as of June 15, “765,236 participants have successfully established new logins and participants have logged in a total of 1.9 million times, either on the website or on the new TSP app.”

Why Was the New TSP System Developed?

Some FedSmith readers have asked why the TSP even made these changes to its website and systems. Some comments were along the lines of “the old system was a lot easier” or “the new website is too difficult to use.”

Deo explained in his letter that security was a big reason for the changes which is also why TSP participants had to establish new logins. He wrote, “The new system represents a large, essential, modernization effort for TSP participants and includes changes that were designed to make a safe system even safer. These new security enhancements are in response to a surge in cybercrime in recent years and why all participants are required by the system to create a new login for online account access, given the new identity management and authentication measures that are now in place.”

He also emphasized some of the new features included among the changes, stating, “This conversion was far more than introducing a new web site; it was a complete modernization of the largest 401k-like plan in the country. Some of the new features that TSP participants have received are the ability to e-sign documents, upload documents, receive mobile push notifications, an official TSP mobile app, a virtual assistant, and a mutual fund window, to name a few.”

He concluded the letter by saying:

We would like to assure you that FRTIB takes all these concerns seriously and their full resolution remains our highest priority. We also want to reassure TSP participants that the core of our new system is functioning; loan, withdrawal, fund reallocation, and investment transactions are being processed. We are working expeditiously to address our participants’ challenges, while at the same time ensuring that the security of those investments is maintained to the highest standards and does not become an impediment to account access.

Norton Not Satisfied With Response

Despite the information provided in Deo’s response, Norton said that it did not address the original questions that she posed in her letter. She said that she “will continue to seek answers, fixes and accountability” about the problems related to the new TSP website.

She said in a statement:

While the FRTIB’s response expounds on the transition and benefits of the new TSP online system, it does not address the questions I posed in my letter. Nor does it address the problems my constituents are having accessing their TSP accounts. In addition, the response fails to provide information on what the FRTIB plans to do to correct the problems. I will continue to seek answers, fixes, and accountability.

Letter From Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) Inquiring About Problems With New TSP Website

June 10, 2022

The Honorable David A. Jones
Acting Chairman
Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
77 K Street NE
Washington, DC 20002

Dear Acting Chairman Jones:

I write with serious concern regarding the Thrift Savings Plan’s (TSP) new online system.  Several District of Columbia residents have contacted me about their inability to access their TSP information and investments and reach TSP customer service representatives.

For example, I understand that with the new system, many TSP participants have been forced to change their passwords or other account information, often requiring them to get a security code delivered by mail, delaying access to their investments for weeks. Constituents have indicated they have attempted to contact the TSP “ThriftLine” for assistance, only to be put on hold for several hours and then be disconnected before talking to someone. 

It appears that the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (Board) was not prepared to launch the new system. I ask that you respond in writing by June 17, 2022, outlining the steps the Board took to prepare for the launch of the new system, the cause of these problems and how they are being fixed. Federal employees and retirees need access to their TSP investments.

FRTIB Response Letter to Norton’s Inquiry

June 17, 2022

Dear Congresswoman Norton: 

This is in response to your letter of June 10 expressing your concerns related to the experience Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) participants are having with the new recordkeeper launched on June 1. We would like to assure you that the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) remains committed to ensuring that Federal employees and retirees with TSP accounts are able to quickly access them. 

A recordkeeper for a defined contribution plan is responsible for tracking all information regarding plan participants – names, addresses, contributions, loans, earnings, withdrawals, etc. The FRTIB awarded the contract for the recordkeeper to Accenture Federal Services in November of 2020. We have spent the last 18 months in extensive and detailed planning for the conversion. I have attached a high-level list of milestones that were briefed regularly to the FRTIB Board members. This conversion was far more than introducing a new web site; it was a complete modernization of the largest 401k-like plan in the country. Some of the new features that TSP participants have received are the ability to e-sign documents, upload documents, receive mobile push notifications, an official TSP mobile app, a virtual assistant, and a mutual fund window, to name a few.

Beginning in January 2022, we began communicating the upcoming changes to all TSP participants. We informed them of exciting new features, key transition dates, and that they would “need to perform some steps to set up online access to My Account after the transition to our new service provider is complete.” We communicated through all available channels: website, email, direct mail, social media, webinars, and trusted third parties that included human resources staff at federal agencies and the uniformed services.

We anticipated that the transition, as most are, would be bumpy. In fact, Tee Ramos, our Director of Participant Services, told the Board members and the Employee Thrift Advisory Council at our May Board meeting to expect that some of our participants would experience difficulties in reaching the Call Centers. However, some of our participants are facing more difficulties than we expected. We sincerely apologize for the frustration and inconvenience some of our participants are encountering. We are working to address these issues as quickly as possible so we can help those who need it. 

We transitioned to a new recordkeeper and modernized our core recordkeeping system; it was the equivalent of simultaneously changing our financial institutions, customer interface, and technology platform. During this transition, we converted more than 26.3 billion records for 6.6 million TSP participants and balanced – to the penny – roughly $743 billion TSP participant assets. We relied heavily on the many agency teams that supported this initiative, including nearly 100 federal payroll offices. Thanks to their hard work, we began processing payroll data on day one. 

In the first 14 days since the June 1 transition, we have processed over 8.2 million transactions representing $2.8 billion in payroll contributions. We have processed 82 rollovers for a total of $3.9 million; 22,528 loans for a total of $234 million; 34,031 withdrawals for a total of $1.1 billion; and 86,757 people have downloaded the official TSP app on their mobile phones. 

The new system represents a large, essential, modernization effort for TSP participants and includes changes that were designed to make a safe system even safer. These new security enhancements are in response to a surge in cybercrime in recent years and why all participants are required by the system to create a new login for online account access, given the new identity management and authentication measures that are now in place. While initially TSP participants faced challenges creating new logins, participants who try to create new logins are successful 90% of the time. Between June 1 and June 15, 765,236 participants have successfully established new logins and participants have logged in a total of 1.9 million times, either on the website or on the new TSP app. 

The difficulties in setting up online logins naturally drove higher call volume at our Call Centers. On June 1, we received 130,000 phone calls, 2.5 times greater than our previous highest call-volume day. While we had emphasized the need to have the Call Centers appropriately staffed to handle an expected high volume of calls, the Call Centers nonetheless were unable to keep up with demand. The contractor has added an additional 250 people to the Call Centers since June 1. However, given the continued record-breaking level of call volumes, participants are still experiencing long wait times. We will continue to add staff to the Call Centers until we return to an excellent level of call center responsiveness. 

We are glad to report that we are making progress. While call hold times still remain too long, they are falling. We will continue to hold the contractor accountable and report on this and other issues to the Board during our public meetings as we always have. 

We would like to assure you that FRTIB takes all these concerns seriously and their full resolution remains our highest priority. We also want to reassure TSP participants that the core of our new system is functioning; loan, withdrawal, fund reallocation, and investment transactions are being processed. We are working expeditiously to address our participants’ challenges, while at the same time ensuring that the security of those investments is maintained to the highest standards and does not become an impediment to account access. 

We appreciate your interest in the Thrift Savings Plan and hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions. 

Sincerely, 

Ravindra Deo 
Executive Director

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.