TSP Still Grappling With High Call, Loan Volume

August 19, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The long troubled federal employee pension plan may finally be getting its recordkeeping act together.

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Executive Director Gary Amelio told the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board at a Monday meeting that a problem with the system’s Web site has been fixed (See  Federal Pension Officials: System to be Fixed By September ) and that a resulting backlog of 70,000 paper transactions has been “virtually eliminated,” according to a report on govexec.com. Programmers are still ferreting out and correcting other bugs in the system, including a lag time in password changes and daily updates.

But the TSP system is still not without its significant glitches – particularly in its call centers.   “One unusual circumstance with our ThriftLine is that 79% of the callers are opting to go to a live operator,” Amelio told the board, according to the govexec.com report. “That is an astounding number, and since so many are opting for the operator, they’re getting jammed up. I know that’s frustrating.”

Going forward, TSP officials say they still have to get a better handle on the mountainous level of plan loan requests. TSP participants are able to have two loans at a time and can refinance an existing loan, he explained. According to Amelio, about 500,000 TSP members hold 800,000 loans. “This is a retirement plan, it’s not a credit union, and we are not geared to deal with this kind of transactional activity, ” the administrator said.

Amelio suggested board members consider requiring members to wait up to 90 days to apply for a new loan after paying off a loan, and limiting loans to one per member.

When the much-ballyhooed daily valuation system opened its electronic doors two months ago, participants hit an instant roadblock when the Web glitch kept some of them from accessing their accounts. While TSP officials tried to find and fix the problem, they told the three million TSP participants to access the system by telephone, but soon the phone system was overwhelmed. Many repeatedly got busy signals or were put on hold for long periods of time.

According to Lawrence Stiffler, director of TSP’s Office of Automated Systems, before the new system was installed, the ThriftLine received approximately 3,000 calls a day. That number jumped to 37,000 calls a day in July, prompting Verizon, the system’s phone company, to limit the number of calls to the ThriftLine.

“They were only allowing so many calls through in a period of time so that we didn’t bring down other phone lines in that area,” Stiffler explained. Amelio recommended that the ThriftLine be swapped for a toll-free line, which would cost TSP participants $8 million a year.

The $113-billion retirement fund covers federal and military employees and retirees and current and former congressional members.