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A Paycheck Foul-Up, and Changes to TSP Catch-Up Contributions

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

The agency responsible for processing payroll for around 650,000 federal workers last week announced that it had issued incorrect paychecks for some employees across the federal government earlier this month.

The problem stemmed from the final paycheck of the 2019 calendar, which ended Jan. 4 and was issued Jan. 10. A number of federal workers reported receiving both smaller and larger amounts than they were owed.

The National Finance Center, which is a subcomponent of the Agriculture Department but provides payroll services for a variety of federal agencies, first acknowledged the discrepancies on Jan. 10, and said the problem likely resulted from federal payroll tax withholding.

By Jan. 14, the National Finance Center announced that it had identified the root cause: employees who had not submitted a new W-4 form or were not exempt defaulted to a new, often incorrect number of exemptions. Single federal workers had taxes withheld as single, with two exemptions, while married feds had taxes withheld as married, with three exemptions.

NFC said it implemented changes to fix the problem “prior to the second pass” on the relevant pay period’s payroll processing. Although the agency said it expected to have compiled a list of all employees who received the wrong amount in their pay check by the end of last week, it did not announce a timeframe for when employees who are owed money would be made whole, or when employees who were overpaid will see a lighter paycheck.

“Updates will be forthcoming as additional information becomes available and the corrective action is finalized,” NFC wrote.

Meanwhile, the federal agency responsible for administering the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program proposed new regulations this week to make it easier for older federal employees to make catch-up contributions to their Thrift Savings Plan accounts.

Currently, TSP participants age 50 and older may exceed the normal 401(k) annual contribution limits in order to make up for time spent in the private sector or when they were otherwise unable to invest in the TSP. But in order to do so, those federal workers must submit a form authorizing catch-up contributions, in addition to the standard contribution election form that all participants provide to their agency.

In draft regulations set for publication to the Federal Register Thursday, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which governs the TSP, proposed that beginning Jan. 1, 2021, federal workers will no longer be required to submit that second form to enroll in catch-up contributions.

“Instead, the TSP will simply continue to accept contributions based on the participant’s contribution election that is already on file, until his/her contributions reach the combined limits on catch-up contributions and other types of contributions,” the agency said. 

TSP officials first announced that this change would be coming last year. It is part of an effort to make the process simpler and easier for federal workers to participate, as well as to streamline the process for both the TSP and federal agencies.

According to the proposed regulations, beginning next year, when federal workers hit the standard annual contribution limit, the TSP will automatically cross reference their ages to see if they are eligible to make catch-up contributions. If the employees are at least 50 years old, they will be able to continue to make contributions up to the higher catch-up contributions limit.