An inspector general would oversee the government’s 401(k)-style retirement plan if a new bill passes in Congress, which is entering its final stretch before the end of the government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia introduced a bill on Sept. 6 to establish an IG for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which manages the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees and service members.
Complaints from account holders about technical problems have racked the program in recent months. The TSP contracted with a new provider, Accenture Federal Services, in November 2020 to overhaul its system, provide new features and digitize paper records for its nearly 6 million users. Since then, customers reported account issues en masse, and Norton’s office said it’s still receiving complaints.
“I think this needs the highest level of oversight,” said Del. Norton in a phone interview with Federal Times, especially since an increasing number of employees are expected to retire and inflation has depressed savings.
She said installing an IG goes beyond finding solutions to the “debacle” by creating a lasting framework for accountability. The Government Accountability Office said it will review contract awards and oversight by the board as part of its examination of TSP’s online site beginning in November.
“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,” said Norton in a statement.
A spokesperson from TSP could not be immediately reached for comment.
John Hatton, who leads policy and programs at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association said it’s encouraging to see attention being paid to the issue through the GAO and Del. Norton’s bill, but it will also be critical to ensure an IG role does not bring politics in with it.
The board responded to an initial letter sent by Norton in June asking for clarity about the cause of the problems.
Executive Director Ravindra Deo said in the letter that while TSP anticipated some bumps associated with rolling out new features, “some of our participants are facing more difficulties than we expected.”
“It appears that the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (Board) was not prepared to launch the new system,” Norton’s letter said.
From mid-May to early June, certain TSP transactions and services were temporarily unavailable as planned during the transition period, but it was around that time that some customers first expressed frustrations.
The board was established as an independent agency by the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 and is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
A vacancy on the board is upcoming after board member David Jones announced his resignation this month.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.