TSP board shares ‘optimistic’ timeline for resolving call center issues

For TSP participants, customer service hold times are down to 15 minutes on average, but lawmakers are calling for a deeper investigation of TSP issues.

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Many participants in the Thrift Savings Plan started to see a drop in call wait times when trying to reach a representative at TSP’s customer service center, ThriftLine.

There has been progress toward resolving issues with ThriftLine, said the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, the agency managing TSP, at a July 26 board meeting. But there is still room for improvement to return everything to normal.

“We’re trending in the right direction, but we’re still not where we want to be,” Tee Ramos, FRTIB’s director of participant services, said at the meeting.

After FRTIB transitioned to a new recordkeeping system on June 1, a wave of challenges hit TSP participants, including issues setting up a new login, missing or incorrect information and technical problems. The frustrations dovetailed with many participants waiting hours on hold to reach a customer service representative for help, often unable to reach someone at all, as ThriftLine call volumes skyrocketed.

Optimistically, the board will return to “some degree of normalcy” by mid-August, Ramos said, but he’s waiting to see if the efforts to resolve issues at the call center will remain successful, before giving a firm timeline.

“I want to be able to say they have sustainably been able to maintain call center operations where we need them. They’ve made the changes … Now, I’m looking in this next month to see that those changes are sustainable,” he said.

Those changes include staffing up significantly at ThriftLine. Since the June 1 launch, call wait times have dropped 77%, Ramos said. The wait times started out at an average of more than two hours, but that’s now down to about 15 minutes.

“We’ve seen dramatic improvement over the course of the last two weeks, in their ability to answer calls,” Ramos said.

The board added 550 customer service representatives in June, and nearly 500 more in July. Even more representatives will come in by the end of this month. The number isn’t straightforward, though, because of high attrition rates at the call center, between 20% and 30%.

In June, TSP’s call center received an average of 34,000 calls per day, totaling nearly one million calls over the course of the month. Comparatively, ThriftLine had about 9,000 calls per day and 181,000 calls total last June.

“We expected an increase, but I don’t know that anybody could have expected an increase of that magnitude,” Ramos said.

Ramos said there are some upcoming changes that could affect the timeline to return to normal, including issuing statements to TSP participants about the transition. The board has a statement scheduled to be sent out soon, which could trigger more participant calls.

The transition to the new recordkeeping system under Accenture Federal Services has hit other bumps, too. For example, many participants said they cannot designate a beneficiary, or find their financial history on the platform. The board said despite the issues, the new system was necessary to protect investments, enhance cybersecurity and update the recordkeeper.

Some of the missing information in the new version of My Account was intentional. For 266,000 participants, beneficiary designations did not automatically roll over due to data issues. The board said affected participants should manually update their beneficiary information and call ThriftLine if they run into issues. Financial history more than 10 years old will not be readily available in the application, the board said. TSP participants who want to access those statements or other documents must call ThriftLine or make the request online.

The inability to create logins is no longer a major issue, the board added. The login process was streamlined soon after the launch, to help participants who initially struggled to set up new accounts. To date, about 1.1 million participants have successfully created accounts in the new My Account system, Ramos said.

The efforts to fix the TSP issues, though, are insufficient for some lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a vocal advocate for TSP participants since the rollout, along with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), called on the Government Accountability Office to conduct a “comprehensive examination” of the new system. Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) additionally signed the July 25 letter to GAO.

“I will continue to demand immediate fixes to the problems, but we need to understand how this debacle occurred, which is why I am requesting a comprehensive examination of the new system itself, its planning and its implementation,” Norton said in a July 25 press release.

Kim Weaver, FRTIB’s director of external affairs, said a GAO investigation is more likely than not.

“GAO doesn’t always do those sorts of things, they get lots of letters requesting investigations,” she said. “However, given the number of Congress [members] on the letter and the high-profile nature of this, it wouldn’t surprise me if GAO does, in fact, respond and come take a look.”

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