TSP board preps for expected influx of new military participants

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) is starting what it predicts will be a “huge lift” to automatically enroll new military members to the Thrift Savings Plan by 2018.

The  2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed in November,  encourages current military members — and requires new ones —  to invest in the TSP.

The Board projects it will have 500,000-750,000 new participants within the first year and as many as 1 million within the first 18 months.

“This is a game changer in terms of the total count and the trajectory for the total number of the participants for the long term,” Greg Long, executive director of the FRTIB, told board members at its monthly meeting Dec. 14. “Of course this means substantially different things for the uniformed services.”

The board asked Tom Emswiler, director of Participant Operations and Policy at the FRTIB, to serve as senior adviser to uniformed services to lead the project. It’s also assembling a specific team that will focus on connecting defense payroll offices with the board’s back-end systems, as well as the many other pieces that will eventually come into play.

“There will be systems changes to support this,” Renee Wilder, director of enterprise planning, told the board. “There will be a huge effort on the part of the communications team, because pretty much everything will have to be rewritten. We’ll have to have things like new notifications, all sorts of elements around standing up the uniformed services [piece.]”

The board is also working with stakeholders at the Defense Department, specifically the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, to implement NDAA changes, said Mark Walther, FRTIB’s chief operating officer.

The board met many of its own performance goals for the last quarter of fiscal 2015, particularly customer service targets it set regarding availability as its call centers and processing times to answer questions, finish withdrawal transactions and provide information to TSP participants.

But FRTIB also acknowledged that with hundreds of thousands of new participants in the next few years, the board will likely need to make some major changes to the way it functions as an organization.

“There are components of our infrastructure that definitely will [scale to add on the 500,000-750,000 new participants],” Walther said. “But we owe it to ourselves to do a heavy scrub of the entire infrastructure to make sure that it does, and ultimately update performance metrics to reflect the onboarding and influx of such a large number of participants.”

Long said the board has spent several months considering how new NDAA mandates will impact the FRTIB, well before the President signed it into law.

“How is the inclusion of automatically enrolled uniformed services members going to change the total number of participants and what their needs are?” he asked. “We have built that model and we are building our budget and our project around those expectations. It will absolutely require additional resources in the phone centers, and we are going to be building that into our budgets.”

FRTIB’s Expanding Participant Retirement Engagement Services and Solutions (ExPRESS) contract for a consolidated service center, will also play a role. It will combine the front and back-end operations — call centers and data input offices, for example — into one entity.

“This will be a big piece of servicing this new population,” Wilder said. “ExPRESS is certainly taking into consideration the onboarding of uniformed services in that contract.”

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