TSP to debut Web site makeover in the fall

The Thrift Savings Plan will begin testing a dramatically redesigned Web site in September or October, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board announced during its monthly meeting on Monday.

Five thousand participants in the 401(k)-type plan will be offered the opportunity to test the revamped site before it is expanded. It will feature updated interfaces for tracking transactions online and interfund transfers, as well as a hub for managing personal information.

Pamela-Jeanne Moran, deputy director of external affairs for the board, said TSP officials selected the number of testers based on surveys. The trial run will help determine how much bandwidth and server space will be required to support the site's enhanced functions, she said.

"A part of the beta is not just the user experience, but the provider experience for us," TSP Executive Director Greg Long said.

Moran said one of the goals of the redesign was to make the Web site more comprehensive, as investors look for more information on the Internet. "You don't just want to leave it in a booklet form," she said.

She said she was developing online training for benefits and payroll officers so they will be prepared to support participants as the new site rolls out. TSP officials will mount an aggressive campaign to educate employees about the changes.

"We're going to have lots of communications out there that say, 'The new site's coming, the new site's coming, the new site's coming,' " Moran said.

Board member Alejandro Sanchez praised the fresh design and displays of investment data.

"[From] everything I've seen, [the designers did an] excellent job," he said. "What a transformation from 1997 to 2009."

Other changes to the TSP still are awaiting congressional action, Director of External Affairs Tom Trabucco said. Lawmakers still are considering legislation (H.R. 1256) that would create a Roth retirement account option in the plan, and give the board the authority to allow participants to invest in mutual funds. Trabucco said congressional staffers had expressed a willingness to modify the language governing the mutual fund option, which the board has not yet agreed to support. A bill incorporating those changes probably will come to the Senate floor after Memorial Day, he said.

Those modifications come as the TSP is recovering from the market collapse last fall. Overall investments in the plan rose from $198 billion in March to $207 billion in April. Renee Wilder, director of the TSP's Office of Research and Strategic Planning, said that boost was driven by a combination of growth in the market and increased contributions.

Participation as a percentage of the workforce held steady. In April, 84.6 percent of Federal Employees Retirement System members had TSP investments, a 0.1 percentage point increase over March. Involvement by members of the armed services also rose slightly, from 28.1 percent in March to 28.2 percent in April.

"Slowly but surely, our participation rate is inching back up to the level we had last year before the market declined," Wilder said. "[Participants] did move over significantly to the [stable government securities fund], but they really have not bailed out on us in big numbers."

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