Last-minute GOP efforts fail to stop federal workers from using retirement funds for ESG investments

Attempts by Republicans on Capitol Hill to prevent millions of federal workers from using their retirement savings — and subsequent taxpayer-dollar matches — to invest in funds that make decisions based on environmental, social or governance criteria were unsuccessful.

The Thrift Savings Plan, the largest defined contribution retirement plan in the world worth more than $820 million at the end of 2021, is the equivalent of a 401(k) for those employed by the federal government, including members of Congress.

As of June 1, TSP participants are able to invest their retirement money in 5,000 mutual funds — up from just five — some of which incorporate ESG when determining which companies to invest in by taking into consideration nonfinancial factors, such as the impacts of climate change or social issues.

At issue for Republicans was that those with a TSP have their contributions matched by the federal government rather than a private employer, as with a 401(k). That means any investments that evaluate ESG factors of companies — which some Republicans vehemently oppose because they say it politicizes and restricts a free market — are being done so with taxpayer money.

A group of eight House Republicans, led by Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, introduced a bill last week that would prevent the “woke scam” of allowing TSP to invest in ESG funds.

“It restricts the free flow of capital, undermines U.S. energy freedom to the benefit of our enemies and advances woke racial and gender ideologies intent on dividing the republic,” Mr. Roy said in a statement at the time. “The federal government shouldn’t have any part in this radical nonsense, and especially shouldn’t be using your money to do it.”

A half-dozen GOP lawmakers sent a letter to the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board last week asking that, as the agency overseeing TSP, it cancel or delay implementation over national security concerns that “dangerous, noncompliant or opaque Chinese securities” could be included in the 5,000 mutual funds.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of ESG funds. Federal workers participating in TSP have access to 5,000 mutual funds, some of which may use ESG criteria.

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