As noted in recent FedSmith articles, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has recently voiced her concern about issues with the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) and the implementation of the new TSP website for the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).
In June, she sent a letter asking about problems related to the new TSP website and received a response from the FRTIB. She was not satisfied with the response and said the FRTIB’s response did not address the questions posed in her letter.
She requested a meeting after hearing from her constituents “about additional problems they are having with the new [TSP] system, including information not being properly transferred and taxes not being properly allocated.”
After meeting with Ravindra Deo, the Executive Director of the FRTIB, she wrote:
I appreciate the timely response by Executive Director Ravindra Deo to my request for a meeting to discuss the problems my constituents are having with the new TSP system. I am pleased Director Deo accepted my request to be sent weekly updates. My constituents and federal employees and retirees across the country continue to face many problems with the new system, including taxes being erroneously taken from accounts, incorrect beneficiary information, and inability to access their retirement savings.
Despite or perhaps because of the responses from the FRTIB, Congressional Delegate Norton does not think the problems have been resolved and thinks further action needs to be taken by Congress.
Norton Seeking Investigation and Inspector General for FRTIB
On July 7, she issued a press release stating that she “will request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the widespread problems with the new Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) online system and will introduce a bill to establish an inspector general for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB).”
The press release listed her concerns this way:
I am deeply concerned about the widespread problems with the new TSP online system. I hear daily from constituents about the many problems with the new system. I will continue to demand immediate fixes to the problems, but we need to understand how this debacle occurred and to create new accountability mechanisms at the FRTIB, which is why I am requesting a GAO report and introducing legislation to create an inspector general at the FRTIB.
FRTIB Has Avoided Congressional Interference
The FRTIB has largely been free from Congressional interference with its operations despite numerous attempts by some in Congress to have the agency use its funds to invest the billions in the TSP to meet political objectives or to satisfy constituents. Over time, the organization has gained a reputation as running a “model retirement plan” and there have been discussions to expand the TSP or an organization modeled after the TSP.
While not stated in the press release, the intent of a GAO investigation and installing an Inspector General at the FRTIB reflects a distrust or dissatisfaction with the agency that oversees the Thrift Savings Plan. Presumably, the current attempt to investigate FRTIB stems from the problems with the new website recently activated for TSP participants.
Requesting a GAO investigation and installing an Inspector General for the agency obviously reflects her distrust of the agency and problems with how the website worked (or did not work) for TSP investors when it was implemented. And, since she represents the District of Columbia in Congress, and a large number of federal workers live in DC, it is probably a good campaign issue for the upcoming election.
In a recent survey of readers to be published next week by FedSmith, most of the problems have apparently been fixed for most TSP participants, although some individuals are still noting problems in comments they have submitted.
Obviously, Congress can change the structure or environment in which an agency operates. While there have been problems with the new website, the high regard for the agency and the TSP exists based on the long-term satisfaction with the TSP.
Is a Congressional Delegate the Same as a Representative in the House?
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) is a U.S. House Non-Voting Delegate for the District of Columbia. She is running for re-election and is on the ballot in the general election on November 8, 2022.
Congress allowed the District of Columbia to elect a Delegate starting in 1970. This privilege was extended to Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1972, American Samoa in 1978, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in elections for the 111th Congress in 2008. Eleanor Holmes Norton has been the DC Delegate to Congress since 1991.
While she is a non-voting delegate, her website describes her as a “Congresswoman” and she is running for election again in November along with Congressional representatives who do have voting privileges on legislation in the House.
Actions That Can Be Taken (Or Not) By Non-Voting Delegate
Non-voting delegates perform many of the functions of a full House representative, including serving on committees, speaking on the U.S. House floor, introducing bills, and offering amendments.
They are not allowed to vote on the House floor and may not vote for the Speaker of the House or to file or sign discharge petitions. They are not allowed to vote while conducting business as the Committee as the Whole or on the final passage of legislation. They may vote in a committee, but the vote is subject to an automatic revote in the House in cases in which their votes were decisive. Delegates to the U.S. House serve two-year terms.
A non-voting delegate is allowed:
- To sponsor and cosponsor legislation,
- Participate in a debate,
- Offer any motion that a Representative may make except the motion to reconsider.
So, while she may be a non-voting delegate in Congress, she does have the power to create issues for the FRTIB by sponsoring legislation or requesting a GAO investigation.
Responsibility of the GAO
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has broad responsibility within the federal government.
It can investigate all matters related to the receipt, disbursement, and use of federal funds and evaluate the results of a program or activity the government carries out under existing law:
- when mandated by either house of Congress,
- when requested by a committee of jurisdiction.
In other words, Congresswoman Norton is in a position to make a request that may lead to a GAO investigation and a report on the FRTIB’s implementation of the new website.