Power Struggle

Thrift board member proposes limiting TSP chief’s power.

The Federal Thrift Retirement Investment Board was thrown briefly into conflict this week when one member suggested more stringent controls on the powers of the Thrift Savings Plan's executive director.

The public portion of Monday's board meeting was about to conclude when board member Thomas Fink put forward his informal but controversial proposal to exert more control over the executive director's decisions. Fink suggested that the executive director be required to seek board approval for decisions that involve more than 10 percent of the Thrift plan's budget or for issues that a majority of board members deem important.

Gary Amelio is the executive director of the TSP. The plan operates as a 401(k)-style retirement system for federal employees. It has about 3.5 million participants and more than $150 billion in assets.

Fink said that his idea is not a slight to Amelio, and he suggested that the policy could provide legal protection for the executive director. At least one board member, however, rushed to squash the idea.

Alex Sanchez told Fink he saw no reason to implement limits on Amelio's decision making.

"I almost fell out of my chair when I heard that question," Sanchez said.

Thrift board Chairman Andrew Saul said that he wants board members to think over the proposal before the next meeting.

"I'm not saying it's a bad idea, I'm not saying it's a great idea," Saul said. "I just want to talk about this...I'm not going to pocket it; we're going to talk about it."

TSP staff members said that a discussion of the issue should take place on the record at a meeting. Sanchez noted that Amelio always has brought major decisions to the board's attention. Fink replied that he wants to formalize that process.

"He didn't have to" bring the information, Fink said. "I think he should have to do it."