Acongressional decision on whether to add a real estate investment option to the 401(k)-type retirement savings plan provided to government employees may not happen until next year.

Eight House and Senate members, who hold seats on key committees, have given the federal board that administers the Thrift Savings Plan until Jan. 1 to provide a report that would include an assessment on whether to increase investment choices.

Legislation introduced in the House would add a real estate investment option to the TSP, but agency officials are wary, in part because the TSP has been built around broad asset categories rather than single industries or commodities.

As part of its long-term planning, the TSP recently sought bids from investment consultants for a review of its four stock and bond funds and related activities. The House members, in a letter, urged the TSP to take steps to ensure that the consultant, when hired, also undertakes a comprehensive inquiry into the issue of adding a real estate fund and perhaps other funds to the plan.

In the letter to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), Jon Porter (R-Nev.), Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) urge the board to move quickly on retaining a consultant and submitting a report with recommendations and findings.

The board's report should examine real estate investment trusts (REITs), Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS), emerging market equities, growth and value indexes, commodities and high-yield debt, the letter said.

In addition, the letter asks the board to identify other investment options "demonstrating further diversification benefits to TSP participants."

Four senators, in a separate letter, ask TSP officials to make sure the report covers "all appropriate investment choices and an analysis of whether the current fund options offer adequate diversification for participants."

Signing the letter were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii).

In House testimony this spring, TSP officials, led by board Chairman Andrew M. Saul, suggested that the agency's priority is the launch of "lifecycle funds" this summer. The so-called L Funds will feature professional asset allocation models designed to help participants make the best use of the TSP's five funds.

The introduction of the L Funds will require an extensive education and outreach campaign to the more than 3.4 million plan participants and modifications to the TSP's computer system.

Saul also has pointed out that the addition of a REIT fund would represent a departure from TSP practice, which has focused on offering broad asset classes (such as common stock and bond funds) to participants.

Despite such concerns, some members of Congress think it is time to provide more choice in the TSP. They note that many corporations allow their employees to chose from a dozen or more options when saving for retirement.

Porter is the chief sponsor of a House bill that would add a REIT option to the TSP. The bill has attracted more than 60 co-sponsors, including Tom Davis and Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).

Government Review Proposed

Legislation aimed at evaluating the performance of federal programs and weeding out those that are ineffective or duplicative will be announced today at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) and Jon Porter (R-Nev.) and Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) will announce the introduction of bills to create a "sunset commission" and "results commission" to study federal program and agencies.

The commissions were recommended by the president in his budget, and Clay Johnson III, a deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, is scheduled to speak at the news conference.

OMB Watch, a research and advocacy group, recently called the proposals "a bald power grab," saying they would usurp power from Congress by entrusting unelected commissions with the ability to make decisions on government services.