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GAO Looks at Agency Student Loan Payments

GAO Looks at Agency Student Loan Payments

If employers pay off student loans, will it encourage people to work for them? Some federal agencies seem to think so. But no one has effectively documented how well it would work, and the program that allows it for federal employees is “time consuming and cumbersome to operate,” the Government Accountability Office reports.

GAO’s recent report, “Federal Student Loan Repayment Program (SLR): The Office of Personnel Management Could Build on Its Efforts to Help Agencies Administer the Program and Measure Results,” says the federal government should evaluate the program in light of its increasing need to attract employees given a boom in federal worker retirement.

Federal agencies can choose whether and how to use the program and don’t get special appropriations, but must find funding within their budgets. To qualify, employees must pledge to stay with the agency for three years.

The Office of Personnel Management’s 2004 report on the issue said that 21 of 27 agencies responding to its questionnaire said SLR helped recruit and retain employees. The Department of Defense finds it particularly helpful, and the Army touts it on its recruiting Web site. Last year, 28 agencies paid more than $16.4 million on behalf of 2,945 workers.

But GAO said that “agencies using the SLR program did not yet have comprehensive data on the extent to which it is aiding them in their recruitment and retention efforts.”

OPM generally agreed with GAO’s suggestion that it help agencies determine what data to collect and figure out how to assess results.

— By Charles Pekow

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