Upgrade of federal thrift system nears completion

What the new system
will do

  • Process transactions daily instead of monthly

  • Display account balances in dollars, shares and share prices, not just dollars

  • Provide employees quarterly statements instead of semi-annual reports

  • Let employees complete loan or withdrawal requests online

  • Include loan information in quarterly statements instead of in separate reports
  • After more than five years of fits and starts, including the firing of the original contractor, a new federal thrift savings system is set to open for business Sept. 16.

    Earlier this month, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board said it would launch the $20 million system in the early fall, giving government employees daily access to their retirement accounts.

    The Thrift Savings Plan holds $102 billion in retirement assets for 2.9 million civilian employees and military service members.

    The new system will replace a 15-year-old one that limits account updates to monthly edits and makes employees wait until the end of the month to process withdrawals, transfers, loan applications or payments and deposits.

    'We are going to be a daily valued system,' said Thomas J. Trabucco, director of the board's Office of External Affairs. 'We no longer will have to do all the work at the end of the month, and participants will be able to transact business at any time during the month.'

    The current system runs on an IBM Corp. mainframe under OS/390 and uses an IDMS database from Computer Associates International Inc.

    The board in 1997 hired American Management Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va., to develop the system. But after several delays, the board fired AMS for default in July of last year. One month later, the board hired Materials, Communications and Computers Inc. of Alexandria, Va., to take over the project.

    The board sued AMS for $350 million, but the suit was dismissed. The board has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and is awaiting a decision on whether the court will hear the case.

    Meanwhile, Matcom is readying the revamped system for user testing. For these tests, the board will run a variety of transactions to gauge the system's readiness.

    Matcom has used a suite of software from SunGard Data Systems Inc. of Wayne, Pa., to develop the system. Omniplus, an app written in Cobol and that stores data in a VSAM file structure, will provide the basic record-keeping functions. The company also has installed Omnivoice, which will let users manage their accounts over the phone, and Powerimage, which employees will use to handle workflow, imaging and data entry.

    'All documents and reports that come in or go out will be imaged into the system by the software,' a Thrift Savings Plan spokesman said.

    The workflow function will let users store unfinished loan applications or other requests for later completion. The system will be able to hold an incomplete request for a specified time and check to see if the form is complete. Once complete, the system will move it on to the next processing phase.

    Powerimage stores the images in a Microsoft SQL Server database on an IBM 9672-R45 mainframe.

    Matcom is fine-tuning the system's front end using Sun Microsystems' Sun One application server and Web server software, which use Java server pages.

    The final record-keeping and tracking part of the system uses Federal Financial Management System software from Savantage Financial Services Inc. of Rockville, Md., for ledger processing and to transmit information to the Treasury Department. The ledger data will reside in an Oracle Corp. database, either Oracle8i or Oracle9i, and a custom Cobol program developed by Matcom will generate reports and notices.

    The system uses 128-bit Secure Sockets Layer encryption. Users will sign on by entering Social Security numbers and personal identification numbers.

    Matcom will deliver the system by July 31, and from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15, the board said it would run the new and old systems simultaneously.

    'We will process everything that goes through the old system through the new system, too,' the savings plan spokesman said. 'After a month of preproduction testing, we will convert to the new system Sept. 16.'

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