Thrift board fixes record-keeping system's Web front end

By synchronizing the settings of the mainframe host and telecommunications equipment of its new record-keeping system, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board IT team today said it had resolved a major kink in Web services for the Thrift Savings Plan.

Larry Stiffler, the board's director of automated systems and TSP project manager, said at a board meeting that the site has improved dramatically. The IT team also has resolved other bugs and about 98 percent of all standard transactions are working correctly, he said.

Some nonstandard transactions still are problematic, Stiffler 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," he said.

The board launched the record-keeping system in mid-July. Immediately, its Web interface suffered problems, with federal employees unable to access the system via the Web or an automated phone system. The TSP team found more than 200 bugs even after a month of testing.

The problems prompted more than 200 congressional inquiries and a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee.

Stiffler said the slow service available via the Web site resulted from the settings of the telecom system and the mainframe being out of sync. He said the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center in New Orleans resolved the problem by sending IBM Corp. some sample TSP data.

IBM identified the problem immediately: The IBM mainframe at the center was running at half duplex, relaying data one direction at a time, and the telecom system was running at full duplex, carrying information simultaneously in both directions. To work at full capacity, both the mainframe and telecom systems' channels must be set to full duplex, Stiffler said.

"These were the default settings of the switches and routers," Stiffler said. "They should have automatically synced up, but it didn't work and it took time identifying the problem."

Stiffler said there was no cost to fix the problem.

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