TSP board’s budget feeling stress of cyber upgrades, audits

Cybersecurity upgrades are putting a strain on the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board’s (FRTIB) budget, which said it may need additional funding before the fiscal year ends.

The agency, which administers the Thrift Savings Plan, predicts its spending will likely exceed fiscal 2016 budget allocations, due to the resources the agency is using on external audits and cybersecurity upgrades.

FRTIB received nearly $220 million in 2016, but the board is on track to spend about $151 million by the end of the second quarter.

“We’re going to do a little bit more homework, but it is entirely possible that we may be coming back to the board for more funding,” Greg Long, FRTIB executive director, said during the board’s monthly meeting April 25.

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The agency isn’t sure just how much more it may need but expects it will have a better estimate next month.

“I didn’t want this presentation to go without us at least indicating to the board that we’re running ahead of schedule on budget,” Long said.

This comes as the agency develops its five-year strategic plan, which emphasizes using more data to make its decisions and improving dialogue and services for TSP participants.

Cybersecurity is a major priority under FRTIB’s plan, particularly as the agency continues to work with external auditors and finishes an upcoming study of private sector cyber best practices. It’s an issue the agency — like nearly every other federal organization — has struggled with in the past.

In its 2015 audit of the TSP, Clifton Larson Allen recently identified the agency’s security program as one of two significant deficiencies. Auditors specifically pointed to FRTIB’s systems authorizations and continuous monitoring programs as areas that needed attention.

FRTIB’s cybersecurity challenges and improvements carry more weight as the agency continues to see higher enrollment in the TSP than ever before, a trend it expects will continue as new military members are required to automatically enroll in the retirement plan by 2018.

Roughly 89 percent of the the Federal Employment Retirement System (FERS) population and 44 percent of active duty military members are enrolled in the TSP in March, slightly higher than the TSP’s year-end participation rate of 88.5 percent.

The board is actively reaching out to the military community to remind them of the 2018 enrollment requirement.

“Just as the civilian participation rate has been going on this long, slow march upward toward 90 percent, so has the uniformed services one,” Jim Courtney, FRTIB communications director, said during the monthly board meeting. “It’s gone on this long slow march — 41 percent, 42 percent, 43 percent. We think a lot of the messaging that we’re doing, we think working with organizations that are also touching the uniformed services population, has paid off.”

“We think blended retirement has helped,” Courtney added. “The discussion out there among the uniformed services about what’s coming in 2018 has focused some people in the military on, ‘there’s a lot of talk about this TSP, maybe I should check it out.'”

To meet growing participant demands, the agency is in the beginning stages of developing a more consolidated call service center under the Expanding Participant Retirement Engagement Services and Solutions (ExPRESS) contract.

ExPRESS will combine the front and back-end operations — call centers and data input offices, for example — into one entity.

FRTIB will release a draft RFP for ExPRESS participant call center services during the first week of May, the board said.