In May and June, the Thrift Savings Plan issued about 1,800 loans per day. In the first dozen days of July, the plan issued an average of 534 per day.
The drop probably can be attributed to a tightening of rules for the TSP loan program, officials said yesterday at a meeting of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.
The volume of calls coming into the TSP also sharply declined in the opening weeks of July, perhaps because of the changes in loan rules. Officials noted that about 80 percent of participant calls to the TSP were about loans.
TSP officials cautioned against reading too much into the declining volume, in part because July is the start of the summer vacation season. But Gary A. Amelio, the board's executive director, said the decline in volume should help TSP efforts to reduce operating costs and pass on those savings to participants.
Under rules that took effect July 1, the TSP deducts $50 from the amount of each loan to cover administrative and other processing costs. Participants no longer can have two general-purpose loans at the same time but may take out a general loan and one residential loan. When participants pay off a loan, they must wait 60 days before applying for another loan of the same type.
Before the new rules kicked in, Amelio said, 19 percent of TSP participants held loans, and 42 percent of them had taken out two general-purpose loans. The average general-purpose loan was about $8,000, and the average residential loan was for $14,000.
The decline in July loans and telephone calls seems to support earlier indications that the loan program has been used by employees to pay for vacations, weddings and living expenses because they knew that money was easily available to them, officials said. The new rules, officials hope, will remind participants that taking loans from retirement accounts should be a last resort.
The TSP, which is similar to a private-sector 401(k) plan, has about 3.3 million participants and about $135 billion in assets, making it one of the largest retirement savings programs in the world.
About 86 percent of government workers covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System participate in the plan. About 17 percent of military and other uniformed personnel have signed up to make TSP contributions in the three years since the plan became available to them.
Andrew M. Saul, the thrift board chairman, estimated yesterday that, at current contribution rates, the TSP will grow by at least $18 billion annually.
The plan's size allows it to reap substantial savings through improved business procedures, and Amelio yesterday repeatedly focused the board's discussion on how to "drive up service, drive down the cost."
Amelio noted that most participants are using the TSP's Web site to obtain their quarterly financial statements, allowing the TSP to save about $3.3 million annually in printing and mailing costs.
In coming weeks, TSP officials said, they will make improvements to the Web site that will make material easier to find and understand. The TSP also plans to start using a new mainframe this year that will speed up Web functions and overnight data processing required to post account values.
Yesterday's meeting began with a review of the 2003 audit of the TSP by Deloitte & Touche LLP. The audit, presented by Melissa Krause and other Deloitte representatives, gave the TSP a clean bill of health.
The board also accepted the findings and recommendations growing out of a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee probe into a failed four-year computer project that wasted $36 million in federal retirement assets.
Saul wrote the committee last week to accept the findings, issued July 7. "No factual discrepancies were identified," Saul wrote.
He noted that all but one of the current board members were appointed "subsequent to the events" that were investigated by the committee.
Farewell at the CIA
Dorothy Hanson, who began a career at the CIA 47 years ago as a clerk-stenographer in the agency's office of security, retired last week after serving the last nine years as personal assistant to George J. Tenet, the former CIA director.
At the ceremony, Tenet praised Hanson as "my ambassador at large," a CIA official said. John E. McLaughlin, acting CIA director, presented Hanson with the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal.