Worst is over for TSP, IT team says

Disparity in settings between mainframe and telecom slowed Web site response times

After a rocky start, the new Thrift Savings Plan system is processing about 98 percent of its transactions. And the system's Web site, about which federal employees lodged the most complaints after the system went live, is taking less than two seconds to process typical transactions.

'The basic part of the system is working fine,' said Larry Stiffler, director of automated systems and TSP project manager for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. 'It is the nonstandard transactions that are causing the problems, and because we are such a large operation, it takes time to find all of those problems.'

Stiffler detailed the fixes last week at the board's monthly meeting.

Although the TSP team has found and fixed numerous code glitches, it was the performance of the system's Web interface that brought the most criticism after the system came online June 16. The response times were slow, and employees had so much trouble logging on that they had to access the system at odd hours.

The IT team solved the site's main problem late last month. The settings on the mainframe host and the telecommunications equipment had to be synchronized, Stiffler said.

The Agriculture Department's National Finance Center in New Orleans, which runs the system, figured out the problem by sending the mainframe's maker, IBM Corp., sample TSP data.

The IBM 9672-R45 mainframe, running OS/390, was operating at half-duplex, relaying data in one direction at a time. Meanwhile, the telecom system, using routers and switches from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., was running at full duplex, carrying information simultaneously in both directions.

To work at full capacity, both the mainframe's and telecom gears' channels must be set to full duplex, Stiffler said.

Wrong settings

'They should have automatically synced up but didn't, and it took time identifying the problem,' he said.

Stiffler said there was no cost to fix the problem.

The IT team also found more than 200 other bugs, even after a month of testing, Stiffler said. Workers have fixed about 125, he said. 'We are hoping to fix the rest of the bugs we found and have the system settle down in the next six to eight weeks.'

The assorted problems prompted more than 200 congressional inquiries and a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee. With many of the problems solved, Gary Amelio, the board's executive director, said he is comfortable with the progress of the system.

'Once we fixed the mainframe, information flowed at a higher rate,' he said. 'We have virtually eliminated the massive paper backlog.'

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