Federal Thrift Savings Plan: Customer Service Practices Adopted by Private Sector Plan Managers Should Be Considered

GAO-05-38 Published: Jan 18, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 18, 2005.
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Highlights

Intended to resemble private sector 401(k) pension plans, the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) held more than $128 billion in retirement assets for over 3 million participants at the end of 2003. Customer service-related difficulties during the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board's (TSP's governing body) record-keeping system conversion in 2003 led the Chairman of a Senate Committee to ask GAO to examine the customer service provided to TSP participants. This review describes (1) customer service provisions within TSP and those offered by private sector managers and (2) customer service practices used by private sector plan managers that could be considered for use in TSP.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board To help ensure that federal workers have the options needed to effectively plan and to encourage them to save for retirement, TSP managers should continually seek new ways to improve their customer service operations. Both the potential costs and benefits should be weighed in making decisions about changes to service. Therefore, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board should direct the Executive Director to develop and implement an evaluation effort to systematically assess the level of customer satisfaction and to identify, as needed, areas of potential improvement for the ThriftLine, caller assistance center, Web-based transaction system, and TSP coordinator program. It should consider a variety of different approaches, including traditional methods such as surveying participants annually through the mail or telephone to assess their overall level of satisfaction with the services provided, supplemented by other approaches, such as exploring the use of Web-based and automated telephone call evaluation tools to randomly survey TSP participants.
Closed – Implemented
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) contracted with an independent consultant, which conducted a survey of a random sample of federal workers and uniformed service members in November 2006. When the results were reported to the Board at its January meeting, one member stated the importance of continuing to survey the participants to ensure that the plan is providing the highest quality service, which is consistent with our recommendation that the evaluation effort be systematic. However, the board took no further actions in that regard.
Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board To help ensure that federal workers have the options needed to effectively plan and to encourage them to save for retirement, TSP managers should continually seek new ways to improve their customer service operations. Both the potential costs and benefits should be weighed in making decisions about changes to service. Therefore, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board should direct the Executive Director to institutionalize the routine collection of information from the largest private sector plan managers to keep up with current industry trends and assess whether the new and existing practices used by private managers would prove advantageous and cost-effective to TSP.
Closed – Not Implemented
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board disagreed with the recommendation and indicated that it had no plans to take any action to implement it. While the Board has recently initiated efforts to "track investment, plan design, and customer service features of the 20 largest 401(k) plans," this information appears to be limited to plan features, such as the types of investment options offered, auto-enrollment features, and plan withdrawal policies. At this time, it does not appear to include information to assess the potential advantages and cost-effectiveness to the Thrift Savings Plan of customer service practices used by private managers.

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