“It’s a mess,” said Stacey Peckins, a Department of Agriculture retiree who said her account was blocked and then was put on hold for four hours with customer service only to be hacked. “The lack of professionalism, the lack of access and the lack of information are not reassuring. As a retiree, this is a vote to take my money out of TSP.”
Federal retirement savings program to broadly expand investment options
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DD.C.) raised many of these questions in a letter last week to the board of directors of the Thrift Savings Plan, called the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, or FRTIB.
“Voters indicated that they tried to contact TSP ‘ThriftLine’ for assistance, only to be put on hold for several hours and then disconnected before speaking to anyone,” she wrote. In some cases, account holders must now wait for a security code to be delivered in the mail, “which delays account access for weeks,” she added.
The board apologized for the problems, blaming logistical difficulties and staff shortages at customer service centers. He says that successful logins for new accounts have increased in recent weeks and that wait times for customer service calls have dropped.
“We anticipate that the transition, like most, would be bumpy,” the board wrote to Norton on Friday. “We sincerely apologize for the frustration and inconvenience some of our attendees are experiencing. We are working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible so we can help those in need.”
The system, launched on June 1 after years of development, has added features to the TSP, including allowing investors who meet certain conditions to transfer some of their money to external mutual funds. TSP, a 401(k)-type program for current and former federal and military employees, had 6.6 million account holders with $734 billion in investments at the end of May, making it the largest such program in the country.
The change required investors to update the online accounts used to manage their money, switching between funds, changing investments in progress or making withdrawals.
Federal officials and retirees have described an epidemic of flaws in the platform, and alarmed lawmakers are pushing for quick improvements.
“I think the worst part is that previously my experience with TSP was great,” said Peckins. “It was easy, reliable and affordable.”
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote to the board last week that many of his “constituents were unable to complete the login setup process and when they try to call the ThriftLine they are put on hold for at least an hour.” .” He asked for an explanation of what the TSP is planning and whether there is a “workaround for TSP participants to access their accounts while these login configuration issues persist.”
The TSP board says the data shows improvement. Since June 1, successful new logins have increased from 75% to 90%, he said, and the addition of customer service representatives has reduced call waiting times, although the board admitted that Waits “stay too long”.
Norton, however, said in a statement Tuesday that the council’s response does not “solve the problems my constituents are having accessing their TSP accounts. Also, the answer does not provide information on what FRTIB plans to do to fix the issues. I will continue to seek answers, corrections and accountability.”
Another federal retiree, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his former job, said he waited until last weekend to try to sign “hoping some of the bugs were fixed,” but that the system didn’t recognize information from identification he used for years. “Attempting to scan and upload my driver’s license and passport also failed. I am now waiting for a login code via US Mail,” he wrote in an email.
The TSP has published a list of “known issues” arising from reinstating online accounts, including suggestions that account holders try a different browser and disable autofill functions.
That page also notes that person accounts now show balances and messages that only date back to the June 1st change; investors needing prior information should call the customer service line. The message also asks account holders to ensure that their beneficiary designations in the event of death are up to date.
A federal official who asked not to be identified because of the agency’s policy of restricting public comment said he found those two policies problematic. In an email, he said he was able to reinstate his personal account quite easily, but it didn’t show the beneficiary choice he made earlier and he didn’t have the account information he wanted to see.
“I expect more from an organization that manages and protects my retirement,” he said. “These two small questions call into question the ability of the entire organization to deliver on its mission.”
TSP spokeswoman Kim Weaver said more than 800,000 investors created new logins. The latest 90% success rate for new logins “is not, from our perspective, poor customer service. It’s actually ensuring that we’re protecting our participants’ accounts. … There are bots trying to do that,” she said in a phone interview.
She said that since June 1 – when the phone line received 130,000 calls, 2.5 times the previous daily high – the number of call center employees has increased from 485 to 805 employees. During this period, the call abandon rate dropped from 90% to 66%. The average call line wait time has now dropped to 49 minutes from two hours on June 6, the TSP said.
“While our service level in call centers needs a lot of improvement, it is heading in the right direction and we will continue to add call center representatives to handle the increased volume,” she said.