Seeking Accountability: Fallout from TSP Website Problems

TSP website problems have led to an upcoming GAO investigation and a bill to create an Inspector General at the agency.

Seeking GAO Investigation and IG for FRTIB

As noted in an article on July 9th, DC Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton has been seeking a GAO investigation and creating a new Inspector General position for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), the organization that manages the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Her actions have been largely based on TSP website problems.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently agreed to look into problems stemming from the recent rollout of the new TSP website and associated problems reported with using the new system since it went online at the start of June.

Problems with the new website ranged from long hold times when trying to call the TSP’s customer support number to missing or incomplete information in participants’ TSP accounts or even problems accessing or withdrawing money from accounts.

The GAO investigation will probably be underway starting in November.

Norton Introduces Bill to Establish IG at FRTIB

On September 6, 2022, Congresswoman Norton introduced a bill and announced its introduction through a press release to establish an inspector general for the FRTIB, the organization overseeing the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

The bill is short. It is called the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board Inspector General Act of 2022 (H.R. 8763). It would amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 to add an inspector general to the FRTIB. The purpose is to “create new accountability mechanisms at FRTIB”.

In the press release, Norton stated:

I am deeply concerned about the widespread problems with the new TSP online system. I hear frequently from constituents about the many problems with the new system, including discrepancies in account balances, difficulties accessing accounts, lost beneficiary information, and hours-long wait times for customer service. 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 FRTIB, which is why I introduced my bill to establish an inspector general.

What Happened With the New TSP Website?

At a recent meeting of the FRTIB, Owen Davies, Client Account Lead at Accenture Federal Services (AFS) provided a report to the FRTIB board members. He said the issues were primarily a result of two things:

  1. Unexpectedly high call volume – AFS planned for call volumes to the TSP’s customer support line that was two times greater than the FRTIB’s previous highest call volume day. The volume of calls turned out to be six times greater.
  2. New account setup process – out of a “mindset for security,” all TSP participants were required to set up a new online account to prevent fraud, but this process “was cumbersome, contained previously undetected errors, and led to unexpected account access issues.”

Davies said that their past experience and data told them they would be at an “acceptable volume” of calls with the 2X assumption and within their ability to handle them with the staff they had. But, as he put it succinctly, “we got it wrong.” The volume of calls that ended up coming in was so unexpectedly high that the company lacked the staff to handle it.

Current TSP Website Performance

The website problems have reportedly improved considerably since its rockly introduction. These are some of the latest performance metrics cited at the latest meeting of the FRTIB:

  • 2.08 million TSP participants have set up their online accounts
  • Call volume is down to about 21,000 calls per day, still higher than average but it is expected to continue to drop
  • Average hold time is down to 24 seconds
  • Average call duration is just under 11 minutes
  • Customer satisfaction on the phone is up to 82%; goal is 90% and AFS is still working to achieve this
  • 81% of calls are answered in less than 20 seconds; goal is 80% and AFS feels confident about being able to maintain this

TSP, Politics, and Good Intentions

As the TSP has grown into a program with investments in the hundreds of billions of dollars, it has become a larger political target by politicians. Most TSP investors are primarily interested in having good investment returns and would rather avoid having this leg of the FERS retirement system turn into one that is a way for elected officials to achieve or finance their political goals.

The FRTIB has been adept at avoiding political quicksand and remaining above the political fray. That is probably a major reason the TSP has been successful and its popularity as a federal employee benefit has continued to grow.

Executive orders or legislation designed to achieve policy and political goals could result in making the FRTIB more responsive to the political whims of our elected officials. How or if some of the recent changes for the FRTIB will impact the success of the TSP remains to be seen. No doubt, the intent of many politicians wanting to impose changes at the TSP is often well-intentioned and the proposals are intended to benefit TSP investors as well as providing a benefit for political constituents.

Federal employees may be hoping the proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” will not become, in retrospect, applicable to some of the good intentions that have appeared just in the last couple of years.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47