Influx of new participants, modernization plans behind TSP board’s 20 percent budget boost

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, the agency that administers the Thrift Savings Plan, will juggle a variety of priorities next year, as it prepares to handle hundreds of thousands of new enrollees and ease them into the organization’s “steady state” operations.

To help them handle the growing workload, the board approved the agency’s $309.7 million budget for fiscal 2018, an increase of more than $52 million, or 20 percent, over the previous year. Enrolling and transitioning thousands of military service members into the TSP’s new “blended retirement” system is only one priority.

Once again, the FRTIB will also focus on improving the cybersecurity of its troubled legacy IT systems, while updating and enhancing its systems, infrastructure and participant contact centers to handle a growing number of participants.

The budgetary boost comes as the agency sees a growing number of its participants beginning to reach retirement age. The board projects post-separation withdrawals will be 20 percent higher at the end of 2017 compared to the previous year.

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Handling an influx of as many as 269,000 new service members to the TSP next year will be the agency’s heaviest lift. The FRTIB may also enroll as many as 300,000 to 475,000 new participants who choose to opt into the new “blended retirement” system, which kicks off Jan. 1, 2018.

The new plan moves military members from a retirement system that mostly relied on a vested defined benefit plan to one that includes a reduced defined benefit plan with greater TSP benefits, continuation pay and some lump-sum options.

The agency has been knee-deep in preparations for blended retirement for the past two years and is heading toward the final stretch on the project now. It successfully completed testing with all of the military services’ payroll offices and will deploy the final IT phase of the project Sept. 30.

More staff will help handle the uptick at the TSP contact centers, as new participants have questions about their new plans.

“We also have plans to use that additional staff for new services,” Tee Ramos, director of participant services for the FRTIB, said Monday at the board’s monthly meeting. “Currently, our contact centers under each of the contracts handle different things. One does calls and e-messages and one group does calls and correspondences. … We’re going to have all of them do everything.”

TSP contact centers received more than 2.3 million calls last year. Most callers had questions about post-separation withdrawal procedures and many others called the contact centers asking about their online account passwords.

The FRTIB recently introduced a password reset option, which the agency hopes will answer the bulk of participants’ concerns and questions about accessing their online accounts.

The agency itself has also been growing in other ways. The FRTIB next year will lease two more floors of its current building to accommodate a larger staff. The agency had about 90 employees when it first moved to its current location in Northeast Washington more than five years ago. Now, the FRTIB has roughly 300 employees and has outgrown its current space, said Kim Weaver, the agency’s director of external affairs.

The agency soon hopes to hire more personnel. It needs more contracting support and IT staff, as well as additional subject matter experts to work with the TSP on its major recordkeeping acquisition.

The new acquisition will consolidate the FRTIB’s recordkeeping and TSP plan operations into one.

Like in past years, cybersecurity will continue to be one of the agency’s top priorities.

“While the agency is moving toward our target of an agile, scalable and secure record keeping platform, we must maintain our current legacy systems and enhance our IT infrastructure,” Susan Crowder, FRTIB chief financial officer, said.

The agency’s Office of Technology Services is expected to fill some vacancies and hire more subject matter experts. About $15 million of the FRTIB budget is earmarked for additional IT projects, which the agency will plan and prioritize later in the year.