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TSP to Trade Speed for Security, IRS Announces Max Contribution Increase, and More

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Officials with the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings plan announced Monday that the Thrift Savings Plan participants soon may see some services and requests take longer to process as the agency explores new security measures.

The new initiative comes in the wake of news in September that Equifax allowed the personal information of 143 million people, including Social Security numbers, to be compromised. Tee Ramos, director of the office of participant services at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the TSP, said the agency is working on new ways to authenticate participants when they make requests regarding their accounts.

“We’re making changes continually to ensure the security of our processes, and we’ll continue to do that through IT and my shop,” Ramos said. “In some cases, we’re going to have to sacrifice speed and convenience for security . . . Some of the changes we’re going to make over the next several months are possibly going to slow down some of our processes.”

Ramos clarified that upcoming changes likely would not affect customer service through the TSP’s ThriftLine call center, but that participants seeking withdrawals or other financial services will see a slower turnaround time on requests.

“There will probably be some changes in how we validate who people are, so the areas I anticipate being impacted are how quickly you can get your money out of our organization,” he said. “We’re just freshly into the process, but off the top of my head, adding several days [to the process] is more likely than just one more day. We have to have the ability to know who we’re sending money to, and quite frankly, a lot of the things people use to validate that are out in the ether now.”

There could be some call center slowdowns in the coming months, but Ramos said those would be the result of the agency’s planned upgrades to its IT infrastructure, not from new customer verification procedures.

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service announced its cost of living adjustments on contribution limits for retirement programs for 2018, including the TSP. The TSP is included in the same category as 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans, which all will see the maximum contribution eligible for income tax deferment for 2018 increase from $18,000 to $18,500.

Next year, the catch-up contribution limit, a provision that allows employees age 50 and older to contribute a larger portion of their income to savings plans as they get closer to retirement, will remain unchanged at $6,000. That means feds 50 and over will be able to save up to $24,500 in 2018 before their investments become taxable as income.

The organizers of the annual charity giving drive for federal employees in the Washington, D.C., region are highlighting a new online portal to provide a one-stop shop for general feds, as well as a number of key days of giving this fall.

The Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area encouraged workers to visit the Office of Personnel Management’s website to peruse charities and donate securely. And they encouraged people to consider giving or volunteering on one of the organization’s promotional days: Nov. 2, Show Some Love Day; Nov. 28, Giving Tuesday; or Dec. 5, International Volunteer Day.

This Combined Federal Campaign runs until Jan. 12, 2018.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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