The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board approved its fiscal 2016 budget during its monthly meeting, directing money for day-to-day operations as well as focusing on the acceleration of cybersecurity upgrades.
TSP director of external affairs Kim Weaver told In Depthwith Francis Rose that the board’s $219.9 million budget was given the OK. It’s a roughly 6 percent increase from the 2015 budget of $207.2 million.
“This has been the summer of the OPM data breach and OMB’s constant drumming on improving cyber controls,” Weaver said. “So we have increased our funding there to move forward some stuff that we had planned, but we’re gonna try and move it forward and do it a little bit faster than we had originally planned. Because obviously that is something of imminent importance to all of us.”
In 2011, the TSP suffered a cyber attack when hackers accessed IT systems at the board’s contractor Serco, Inc. About 123,000 accounts were jeopardized by the breach —some 43,000 accounts had personal information like Social Security and bank-account numbers exposed, while the other 80,000 accounts had Social Security and TSP-related information revealed.
The budget also includes funding for planning ahead for the possible fall 2017 implementation of legislation that would change the military retirement system to let uniformed military service members get employer contributions and employer matching funds.
Weaver also put to rest rumors of potential structural changes to the G-Fund, which buys nonmarketable Treasury security.
While there had been talk of using the fund to pay for transportation infrastructure upgrades — in July the Senate rejected the House’s proposal to use the G-Fund — Weaver said there was acknowledgement on Capitol Hill that the proposal would not be moving forward, though “we will continue, obviously, to play defense.”
“That seems to be over and done with. There was an acknowledgment that it was not going to move forward,” Weaver said. “We don’t believe there is anything actively percolating at the moment, but we will continue to monitor that closely.”
Weaver told In Depth that the board’s monthly meeting included a discussion about whether it was worth proposing legislation to automatically escalate contribution levels.
While the board has had the authority since 2009 to automatically enroll people, that enrollment is done at a 3 percent contribution level. The board does have the authority to automatically enroll people at 5 percent, but what’s been seen is that “there’s about 26 percent of people who are sitting and staying at 3 percent They are not increasing their contribution and that has two outcomes: 1) They’re leaving free money on the table, they’re missing out on that additional match, and 2) They’re probably not contributing at the level that is going to get them to a retirement goal that they’re gonna want,” said Weaver.
Weaver added the 3 percent level gives someone a dollar-for-dollar match, while 5 percent gets 50 percent on the dollar up to 5 percent.
Weaver said the discussion then was on whether it would make sense to automatically enroll someone at 3 percent and then in a year increase that to 4 percent, and then 5 percent the following year.
“Right now we have a very low opt-out rate, only 3.9 percent of people opt out of the auto enrollment,” Weaver said. “If we increase it to 5 percent, would that opt out rate go up, and therefore someone wouldn’t be contributing at all, not just at the 3 percent level. That was the conversation. It was a very good policy conversation.”
Weaver said automatic escalation has been popular because it tends to be something that happens in January, at the beginning of the year when things like health benefits might be changing, or a person is getting a pay raise or step increase.
“A lot of that washes out, you don’t actually feel it as much in your pocket because there’s a whole bunch of other things changing as well,” Weaver said. “Anyone always has the option of making their own selection. It’s not like we’re going to shackle you and steal your money. None of this is permanent forever and ever. It’s just a way to get people doing something that is – like you said – eating your vegetables, but they may not be thinking about when they’re just starting out.”
Weaver said the board has also recently provided agencies’ payroll offices and benefits officers a Guidance for Choosing Financial Education Vendors advisory, which Weaver said will hopefully address some of the mixed messages offices had been hearing from some vendors.
“We had been hearing some anecdotal information from our participants … that vendors hired by agencies to provide counseling or retirement planning had been providing information or using them to get them to roll their money out from the TSP,” she said. “We wanted to give them some ideas and some ways that they could sort of think about as they’re choosing the contractors that they’re hiring.”