Raising debt ceiling ends disinvestment of Thrift Saving Plan

August 3, 2011

The raising of the federal debt ceiling brings with it the end of a financial maneuver that had helped stave off default since May that involved the 401(k)-style retirement savings plan for federal employees.

The maneuver involved an investment fund in the Thrift Savings Plan called the government securities fund, or G fund, which is invested in special government bonds.

Employees invest in that fund and other TSP fund offerings much as 401(k) participants invest in mutual funds, though the G fund is unique in that it is offered only through the TSP. The fund is administered by the Treasury Department, which issues special securities that produce a guaranteed rate of return for investors. Over the past 12 months through July, the fund has yielded a 2.6 percent return.

However, when the government bumped up against the debt ceiling in May, the Treasury took several actions to free up operating money and avoid default, including not issuing those securities — what is called disinvesting the fund.

“The suspension in the issuance of G fund securities is being lifted today by the Treasury,” TSP spokesman Tom Trabucco said in an e-mail Wednesday. “Thus, beginning today, securities will again be issued for the full amount of the G fund.”

Under a make-whole provision in a 1987 law, when G fund securities aren’t being issued during a period of disinvestment, investors continue to be credited with earnings as if the securities had been invested. “The G fund is fully protected when securities are issued and when securities are not issued,” Trabucco said.

Technically, what happens is that the TSP and the Treasury reconstruct securities in the G fund to replicate what they would have been had there been no interruption in their issuance, he said.

Similar disinvestment and make-whole steps have been taken in the past.

As of the end of June, the G fund had more than $119 billion on investment, two-fifths of the almost $290 billion invested in TSP funds. There are some 4.5 million account holders, including active and retired federal employees and military personnel, as well as those who separated but kept their accounts open.

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