In one of its last acts before adjourning, the Senate this week approved the president's three nominees to the board that oversees the Thrift Savings Plan.
The new board members intend to review TSP operations and look for ways to better inform government employees about their investment opportunities, according to their testimony at a recent confirmation hearing chaired by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii).
The three -- Andrew M. Saul and Gordon J. Whiting, both of New York, and Alejandro M. Sanchez of Florida -- are taking control of the five-member Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board at a troublesome time. They will be faced with bringing on line a much-delayed record-keeping system for the TSP, resolving litigation over a contract to develop that system and formulating long-term policy for the 401(k)-style program.
Their Nov. 15 confirmation hearing came just three days before the board's executive director, Roger W. Mehle, announced his resignation. Mehle was succeeded Monday by another board employee, James B. Petrick.
At the confirmation hearing, Akaka questioned the three prospective members about the "very public disagreement" between the board and the departments of Justice and Labor over the board's handling of the contract dispute and the legality of a related accounting decision involving $41 million.
The TSP, which enables government workers to save for retirement by investing in stock, bond and Treasury security funds, has been working since 1997 on a computer system to speed up transactions. The system's launch, promised two years ago, has been delayed by software defects and other problems, according to the board.
Last year, the board fired the original contractor and sued for damages. But the Justice Department objected to the board's filing suit on its own, arguing that the department represents the government in court. (A federal judge agreed with Justice's interpretation, but the board has appealed that decision.) And the Labor Department says the TSP should have written off $41 million paid to the ousted contractor, although the board says it expects to recover the money.
Saul, selected by President Bush to chair the board, said he was aware of the interagency dispute, which he called "very embarrassing." One of his top priorities, Saul said, will be "to do whatever is necessary . . . to come to a fair and equitable resolution of the problem."
Whiting and Sanchez said they would work to ensure that interagency conflicts are avoided or quickly resolved. Often, Whiting said, confusion exists when government agencies do not speak with one voice on controversial matters.
In responses to written questions from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Saul said he was recommended for a board position by New York Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican. Material submitted to the committee shows that Saul has contributed to numerous Republican candidates and served on the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Saul is managing partner of his family's investment firm, which has more than $100 million in assets. He is a former chairman of Cache Inc., which operates about 200 clothing stores, and a former president of Brooks Fashion Stores, an 800-store apparel chain.
He also is chairman of the audit committees of the Mount Sinai-New York University medical centers and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City.
Sanchez is the chief executive of the Florida Bankers Association and a former inspector general and general counsel for the Florida Department of Commerce.
Whiting is an executive at W.P. Carey & Co., which manages real estate investments. Whiting has managed investments on behalf of the California Public Employees Retirement System. Since 1996, he has been the company's representative to the Republican Eagles, an elite group of GOP donors.
The incoming board members, who will serve four-year terms, replace James H. Atkins of Arkansas, the outgoing chairman; Sheryl R. Marshall of Massachusetts; and Don W. Harrell of New York.
On the Radio Angela Antonelli, chief financial officer of the Housing and Urban Development Department, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 8 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).
"Is My Good Government Job Still Good?" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).
Stephen Barr's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.