Hurricane not expected to disrupt payroll, TSP services

Federal payroll and Thrift Savings Plan services will continue even though Hurricane Katrina forced the evacuation of the New Orleans office that processes paychecks for hundreds of thousands of employees and stores TSP data, officials said Monday.

The roughly 1,500 employees of the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center in eastern New Orleans are relocating to two emergency locations-one near Dallas and the other in Philadelphia, said Ed Loyd, a department spokesman. Before they left Sunday, they finished processing and transmitting payroll information for the current pay period, he said.

The National Finance Center processes paychecks for 500,000 federal employees at a variety of agencies. Those workers shouldn't notice any irregularities, Loyd said. The finance center also has backup versions of all pay records, which are now stored electronically, he said.

"Most employees will never know that anything has occurred," Loyd said.

On Monday, however, the finance center's Website was not working.

Officials will assess property damage at the center once the hurricane has passed, Loyd said.

The National Finance Center also operates a call center for Thrift Savings Plan participants and stores financial information related to the TSP. Most of those operations are being handled at alternate sites. The TSP board does not expect any significant effect on its services.

The calls are now being handled by the TSP's second call center in Cumberland, Md., said TSP spokesman Tom Trabucco, and data is being processed through a new facility in Northern Virginia. TSP officials have not released the exact location of the data center for security purposes.

Until the Northern Virginia center opened in the summer of 2004, the TSP's emergency plan was to ship paper files from the New Orleans office to a center near Philadelphia. Trabucco said that operation, which would have taken a number of days to fully implement, is no longer necessary because of the new center.

According to Trabucco, the processing of applications by employees to join the TSP, which some agencies process through the NFC, may be affected by the hurricane. He said the TSP board is communicating with agencies on alternate methods for handling these forms.

Additionally, any paper forms that already have been mailed to the NFC will be delayed. All online transactions, however, including inter-fund transfers, loans and withdrawals, will not be affected by the storm.

On Monday, the Maryland call center was not having any problems handling the volume of calls from TSP participants, but Trabucco said he could not rule out potential problems in the days to come. Usually the NFC handles about half of the TSP calls.

By Wednesday, the Maryland center will not need to handle all of the calls, because-in a move unrelated to Hurricane Katrina-the TSP is shifting the calls now handled by the National Finance Center to a newly contracted operation in Clintwood, Va., formerly run by the online travel company Travelocity.

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