A double-header brain drain

When it started out in the 1980s, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board was, uh, chaotic. It had files and supplies in cardboard boxes. It looked like the temporary office of a temp agency. Or a bookie joint.

In those days, the TSP was constantly inventing, then reinventing itself. The mailing address for what was to become the world’s largest 401(k) plan was P.O. Box 500-something at the Benjamin Franklin Station on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It started out with $148 million in funds transferred from the Treasury’s General Fund for the then 600,000 “new” workers who had come in under the new Federal Employees Retirement System. FERS had been setup to replace the older CSRS program. CSRS has a better civil-service benefit, but FERS has Social Security and the government can match up to 5 percent of employee contributions to the TSP.

The TSP’s first press release, written by 30-something Tom Trabucco, noted that “agency personnelists have indicated to the Thrift Board that there is a high level of employee interest in the Thrift Savings Plan.” That’s the understatement of the decade. Right now, the TSP has 4.5 million account holders and $300 billion-plus in value. About 85 percent of all eligible employees have accounts.


Trabucco, the first and only spokesman for the board, is retiring Feb. 29. We talked to him Wednesday on our Your Turn radio show. For his insights on the world’s largest company-401 k style plan, click here.

Also retiring this month is Penny Moran. Her title is director of participant services, but she’s the person people go to when they want to know what makes the TSP tick. An outside fan said she’s a “national treasure.” A coworker said regardless of the issue or problem — from Hurricane Katrina to TSP policy — the word was always “see Penny Moran. She knows.”

After years of bracing for the government brain drain, it appears to be happening. The Federal Times reported a 24 percent increase in retirements in 2011 vs. 2010. That’s a lot. Uncle Sam is truly losing some of his best and brightest.

Nobody begrudges people the right not to suffer through D.C.-area traffic (or your hometown equivalent) every day. And there is always more time for friends and family. And there’s travel or fixing the front step. Chores delayed from 1996.

But some passages are tougher than others. It’s probably happening in your agency too.

So for Tom, Penny and other retirees and short-timers, thanks for your service!


By Jack Moore

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