GAO to TSP: Ask Participants for Improvement Ideas

February 18, 2005 ( - If the Federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) wants to continue trying to improve, officials there need only study what their private-sector counterparts are doing to better serve participants.

That was the conclusion of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released Friday, which suggested the TSP start with a simple step: institute regular participant polls to gauge satisfaction and collect suggested changes.

“As TSP managers continue to modernize their customer service operations, they should look for opportunities to use participant feedback to identify broader innovations to improve their services, in addition to focusing on individual participants’ specific concerns” GAO auditors wrote. “The practices of private sector plan mangers suggest that direct, ongoing participant feedback is invaluable in responding to the changing needs of plan participants. Without obtaining more frequent representative feedback from participants, TSP managers cannot determine what improvements would best satisfy participants’ needs.”

Specifically, the GAO recommended systematic assessments of customer satisfaction as well as regularly collecting information from the largest private plans to see if the private plans are doing anything the TSP should adopt (such as allowing participants to print back statements from a Web site to better assess their long-term savings progress). To save money, TSP should explore Web-based satisfaction surveys or those conducted by automated phone systems.

The report acknowledged that TSP officials have announced plans for such a participant survey, but pointed out that the first one is not scheduled for two years. TSP hasn’t conducted such a poll since the early 1990s because of long-term problems in upgrading its recordkeeping system (See Federal Pension Officials: System to be Fixed By September ).

TSP board members also argued in their reaction to the GAO evaluation that the proof of participants’ judgment of them was in the system’s operating statistics. “In particular, the (TSP) board stated that TSP’s high participation rate, increased number of transactions and low account withdrawal rate among inactive participants such as retirees or former employees imply a high level of participant satisfaction,” the GAO report said.

While recognizing that the once badly troubled pension program had already instituted significant customer service improvements – including a new RK system and an additional call center – the GAO auditors asserted that the federal plan could also benefit from additional technological and operational enhancements already in use in the private sector. Federal workers will expect nothing less, the report said. “As TSP participants become more familiar with online transactions and the services provided by private plan managers, participants may come to expect services not currently provided by the TSP,” the auditors warned.