Maksim Kabakou/

TSP Told to Tighten Security at Data Centers

Board overseeing federal retirement assets says it has bolstered safeguards.

The agency overseeing billions of dollars in federal employees’ retirement assets needs to tighten security at its data centers, according to a new audit.

The Labor Department and accounting firm KPMG found certain lapses related to obtaining physical access to facilities that house Thrift Savings Plan information and technology systems. Specifically, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which administers the 401(k)-type account for federal employees, did not provide evidence of management authorization for individuals with access to the primary and alternate data centers during the audit, and auditors found that one individual out of 25 with physical access to the TSP’s alternate data center retained that access after separation.

The TSP agency also lacked written procedures for data center access until September 2013, the audit stated. The wide-ranging performance audit, which included the analysis of the agency’s security controls, as well as contingency and business continuity plans in case of disaster, looked at operations from Oct. 17, 2012, to Feb. 21, 2013, and again from Nov. 18, 2013, through Jan. 10, 2014.

“By not reviewing, approving, and disabling physical access, an increased risk exists that individuals may have unnecessary or inappropriate access to TSP systems and data, putting the agency at risk of inadvertent or deliberate disclosure, modification or destruction of data,” stated the March 2014 audit, presented by Labor and KPMG officials during the board’s monthly meeting in Washington on Monday.

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board agreed with auditors’ recommendations to shore up security related to the physical access to the two TSP data centers. “The deputy chief technology officer for infrastructure and operations has established a requirement for periodic review of physical access at all data centers in accordance with policy, and is documenting and retaining evidence of authorization,” said the board’s Executive Director Gregory Long, in a written response to the audit.

Auditors also recommended that the board develop stronger disaster recovery planning, and do a better job documenting business continuity procedures. The FRTIB said it will work with a contractor on developing and implementing a business continuity plan in accordance with federal guidelines, and will create and implement a written cyber incident response plan by Sept. 30, 2014. The TSP agency already has implemented a data replication program to protect TSP information.

The TSP is an “enormously large financial institution,” said Ian Dingwall, chief accountant at Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, during his presentation of the audit findings on Monday. The numbers bear that out: as of March 2014, TSP assets were more than $405 billion, and Roth balances totaled more than $1.2 billion. The rate of participation in the Federal Employees Retirement System had increased to 87.1 percent and the participation rate for active duty members rose to 41.1 percent by the end of last month.

Overall, the Labor/KPMG audit of the TSP board’s management was positive, and Dingwall noted the “pretty healthy relationship” his team has with the board’s current staff, whom he praised for their cooperation and professionalism. FRTIB undergoes multiple audits of its management and operations, including an in-house review.

FRTIB has the “resources and people” now that it didn’t have three years ago to implement auditors’ recommendations and improve operations, Long said during the meeting.

(Image via Maksim Kabakou /