TSP participation among service members up, but overall percentage rate dips

Rate is down slightly because the size of the military grew faster than enrollment.

Despite an overall increase in June of service members enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan, the percentage of military participation in the TSP actually fell, according to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

The number of active-duty participants in the TSP increased from 549,173 in May to 551,543 in June. But the participation rate actually dipped from 39.1 percent to 37.7 percent during that period. Within the last month, the Pentagon has updated the board on the increase in military members in the department. But the board had been working with 2009 figures to calculate the percentage TSP participation rates, which accounts for the decrease, according to Renee Wilder, director of research and strategic planning for the board.

So while the number of military participants in the TSP increased, that increase was not proportional to the larger number of total service members Defense most recently reported, Wilder said.

Several members of the board said on Monday during their monthly meeting that they planned to renew efforts to increase military participation in the TSP.

"At some point we probably need to meet with the Pentagon again," said Alejandro Sanchez, a board member who called in by phone. "I think the last meeting we had … has helped increase some of these numbers. The website is really helping. Slowly but surely we keep increasing the numbers."

Wilder said TSP participants show signs of being rattled by ongoing market volatility -- many participants continue to "move to safety" in the G Fund -- people have not stopped contributing altogether.

Chief Investment Officer Tracey Ray said the number of interfund transfers also seems to be stabilizing compared to recent months. In June, there were 90,660 interfund transfers, a "dramatic change" compared to 165,061 in May and 125,817 in April, Ray said.

Ray pointed out continued increases in the number of employees enrolled in the life-cycle funds. In the L Fund, 702,440 participants had account balances as of June 30, compared to 696,912 enrollees at the end of May.

The board on Monday also swore in two new presidentially appointed members, Dana Bilyeu and Michael Kennedy, who were confirmed by the Senate in June. Bilyeu served as the executive officer of the Public Employees' Retirement System of Nevada and Kennedy was a senior client partner and financial specialist at Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm.

The board's executive director, Gregory Long, praised the work of Wilder and others on the recently launched redesign of TSP.gov. He said while there are still a few loose ends to tie up, it was a very successful launch.

"It will continue to evolve," said Penny Moran, TSP's director of participant services. "We'll be adding stuff to it. This is not just the end; it is sort of like a new beginning."

Among these changes, Moran said, will be the implementation of automatic enrollment beginning in August.