Tobacco Bill Brings TSP Changes

June 15, 2009 ( - Congress last week approved legislation designed to further regulate and restrict tobacco products - but at the same time made changes to federal worker benefit provisions.

The bill — HR 1256, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act — puts the Food and Drug Administration in charge of regulating tobacco and imposes restrictions on the marketing and production of tobacco products.   But it also contained a number of enhancements to the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP.  

The bill passed the House on Friday by a vote of 307 to 97, and the Senate approved an identical version of the bill June 11 by a vote of 79 to 17.  

TSP Changes

The bill – which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama – would allow the TSP to offer participants:

  • a Roth 401(k)-type option, that would let participants put some or all of their after-tax salary into an account that will grow without tax liability on future earnings (though, according to the Federal Times, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board governing TSP said it could have a Roth option ready in one or two years – see  TSP Board Backs Roth Addition ).
  • automatic enrollment of new federal civilian employees (as in the Pension Protection Act’s automatic enrollment design, employees would have 90 days to opt out of the program and receive a full refund – see also  Legislation Would Add Auto Enrollment Feature to TSP ).
  • a survivor benefit that would allow spouses of deceased TSP participants to maintain TSP accounts.
  • a mutual fund option that would allow participants to direct their TSP funds to private-sector mutual funds (though its by no means certain that this will be activated by the he Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.   In April the board split 2-2 on the issue – see  Lawmakers Propose Sweeping TSP Changes ).

Not included in the final bill was a provision in the House-passed version that would have allowed unused sick leave accumulated by employees covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) to be counted toward their retirement payments (see  Lieberman Proposes Paid Time Off Program ).  But the Senate version of the bill, passed Thursday, did not include the sick leave measure, which was originally introduced in the Senate by Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut).