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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Fantasy TSP

Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez Kathy Willens/AP

Attention federal employees: If Thursday’s Washington National’s home opener against the Cincinnati Reds has you considering joining a fantasy baseball team, there are less time consuming, perhaps more economical options to satisfy your fantasy sports tastes.

If you’ve ever wished you could get as excited about the Thrift Savings Plan’s G Fund as you are about picking Alex Rodriguez to lead your fantasy team, take heart: A pair of investing and tech nerds is helping about 6,000 of TSP’s 4.5 million enrollees do just that.

Rodney Washburn and Bill Green’s -- which is “just like Sports Center,” Washburn says -- launched in 2008, initially with about 20 participants.

“The 2008 market crash pretty much led us into doing the site because people are out there looking for answers, and it’s almost mind-boggling the number of federal employees who don’t understand TSP,” said Washburn, a Virginia-based federal employee.

Participants create anonymous usernames and fake accounts and compete in groups to see whose TSP posts the highest returns. Account values are determined by the actual values of the the plan’s funds. As in fantasy sports, players make trades and transfers under the same rules as the real TSP,

There’s even a leader board, so players can see who is doing well and learn from how they are moving their fantasy money. In fact, participants technically don’t have to join a team to check out the leader board for tips on how to make the most of their real-life TSP account. The site also offers in-depth analyses of investment performance, provides interactive charts and calculates returns.

A private feature allows players to enter their actual account balances and monitor them against their fantasy plays, but it’s not competitive. Washburn and Green make no money from the site, which is free to play. Washburn also Tweets about investing here.

Washburn thinks the government does an adequate job of providing TSP beneficiaries with information, but he wants to put it in a different context. “The average person says, ‘That stuff’s hard, it’s over my head, I don’t get it.’ This puts you in a different forum. People come [to the site and] they ask a lot of questions,” he says.

David Toro, a program analyst for the TSP, says plan officials are too focused on serving their beneficiaries to discuss TSPCenter and other sites like it. Washburn suspects the board could worry his site encourages irresponsible trading, and he acknowledges many of the fantasy participants might be drawn to day trading, which the site does not permit, even in fantasy form.

He does not have plans to add TSP’s new Roth option to the game, but hasn’t ruled it out, either.

Illegal Dips

Irresponsible use of TSP funds does occur in the real world -- uninspired by TSPCenter. A 63-year-old Madison, Wis., woman was sentenced this week to one year and one day in jail for keeping and spending government retirement pension funds for her deceased mother.

The Office of Personnel Management’s Retirement Inspection Branch caught the fraud during a routine audit. Retirement benefits were being disbursed to Ann Weise, who died in 1995.

“At sentencing, [U.S. District Judge William Conley] noted that the defendant’s conduct resulted in a loss to the government of $131,878.21 and thus called for a prison term to deter others from attempting the same scheme in the future,” stated a report from a Madison, Wis., NBC affiliate.

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