- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

If you are one of the millions of people entrusted with a government credit or travel card, do yourself, your co-workers and the rest of us a big favor: Use it only for professional, not personal, purchases.
Don't use the government credit card to buy yourself a car (which somebody did), and don't use it to get your dog fixed (literally) or to pay for surgery, or a new set of choppers for your four-legged buddy. Which somebody also did.
Abusing credit cards is one of the things government bean counters say will matter, big-time, when agencies make their requests for money to do their jobs, and to pay for employee training and promotions.
As part of an ongoing crackdown, the Office of Management and Budget says the Pentagon has canceled 400,000 credit cards, which represent 20 percent of all the government cards in the hands of civilian and military personnel.
In other good news, the Department of Education has blocked more than 300 pornography businesses from accepting a government credit card.
Investment downer
The new daily-valuation system, which would have let federal and military investors know how many shares they own in their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) accounts, has been delayed. Again.
This is the sixth such delay in two years.
Daily valuation was supposed to begin in mid-November, but the Federal Thrift Retirement Investment Board says testing of the new system revealed glitches that would distort the value of accounts, or shares, in the massive, federal 401(k) plan.
Bottom line: It will wait until the system works properly before it is launched.
Meanwhile, federal and military investors will have to be content with having their account balances expressed in dollars, not shares.
The changeover also will allow investors to make transfers among retirement accounts and process loans more quickly.
The TSP is one of the more generous 401(k) plans in the nation. Employees who are under the new Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) can contribute up to 10 percent of salary and qualify for a 5 percent tax-deferred match from the government.
Federal employees under the older Civil Service Retirement System (who are now in the minority) and military personnel can contribute up to 5 percent of salary. They do not get matching contributions.
Retirees who had and kept TSP accounts can remain in the 401(k) plan and move funds around just like active-duty personnel. But like retiree participants in private sector 401(k) plans they cannot make regular contributions to their accounts.
Catch-up contributions
Feds and military personnel who are 50 or older are hoping the Senate will approve catch-up contributions for them to the TSP.
The House has passed legislation by Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, that will allow anyone 50 and older to contribute an extra $2,000 to the TSP next year. That catch-up amount would rise to $5,000 by the year 2006.
Each year thereafter, anybody who is then 50 or older could put in a total of $20,000 per year into the TSP. The catch-up contributions are already law for private sector 401(k) participants. But it takes an act of Congress to make changes in the federal plan.
Like the Morella bill in the House, the Senate plan, by Sens. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, and John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, has wide bipartisan support. Most members of Congress and their staff belong to the federal TSP. And a lot of them are or will be 50 before long.
The White House says its a slam-dunk; the president will sign the catch-up bill if the Senate can get it to him.

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