The long-awaited modernized computer system for the 401k-style Thrift Savings Plan was up and running Monday afternoon, according to TSP board officials. "We are turning the system on and making it available to participants as of noon today," Lawrence Stiffler, director of TSP's Office of Automated Systems, told TSP board members Monday morning. The new system, which comes after several years of stops and starts, will work more like private-sector 401k accounts, allowing federal employees to make changes to their retirement accounts on a daily basis and access up-to-date balance information. The new system will also allow TSP account holders to more easily withdraw money, apply for loans and make changes to their contact information. "This is an enormous feat to get this thing up," said Andrew Saul, TSP board chairman. "Our participants should know a lot of work went in to this thing. It just didn't happen overnight." The new record-keeping system has been in the works since May 1997 when the TSP board awarded American Management Systems a $30 million contract to install a computer system that would allow federal employees to more easily control their accounts. The board fired the company in July 2001 after frequent delays and a tripling of the project's estimated cost. The board paid AMS $51 million for the failed project before firing the contractor and lodging a lawsuit against it for $350 million. AMS sued the board for breach of contract. The lawsuits are pending. Board officials brought in a new company, Materials, Communication & Computers Inc., to get the system up and running, spending another $32 million and another two years before finally starting the system up Monday afternoon. "A lot of people poured their heart and soul in this thing to get it up and running," Stiffler said. Stiffler said TSP participants who submitted fund transfer requests up until June 15 can view those changes to their accounts through the TSP Web site Tuesday. Stiffler also warned that high traffic on the Web site during the first few days after the launch might cause the system to be slow. Three million participants have about $112 billion invested in the TSP's five funds, which have all shown positive returns during the past three months. Gary Amelio, the new TSP executive director, said one of his agenda items included aggressively educating federal employees about the benefits of investing in the TSP and the various investment options offered. "The one charge that the board members and I have on a fiduciary basis by statute is to act on the behalf of the members and that's one thing that I will remember every minute that I am here," Amelio said.
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