BEST PRACTICES AND LESSONS LEARNED
Under 5 U.S.C. 5379 and 5 CFR part 537, Federal agencies are authorized to implement a program under which they may agree to repay certain types of student loans as a recruitment or retention incentive for highly qualified personnel. Below is a summary of the best practices and lessons learned by agencies that have successfully implemented student loan repayment programs. This information is intended to assist agencies in establishing and administering a student loan repayment program.
Securities and Exchange Commission's Student Loan Repayment Program
- Determine whether agency is going to repay all eligible loans (e.g., should the agency repay an employee's PLUS loan?).
(See Q&A #17 in the Student Loan Repayment Program Questions and Answers at http://www.opm.gov/oca/PAY/StudentLoan/HTML/QandAs.asp#loan-eligible.)
- Address eligibility issues (e.g., is program open to employees on appointments that can lead to permanent positions, such as career interns?).
- Determine whether the agency is going to repay loans taken out by an employee after employment to pay for courses toward a future degree, or only loans taken out for a completed degree.
- Give adequate time to process applications to allow for potential delays in communicating with lenders.
- Follow up with lenders to make sure payments are credited properly and employees are making required payments.
Department of Justice's Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program
- Publish information on the Internet or agency intranet, including the agency's policy, forms, service agreements and other required documents, checklists, and frequently asked questions.
- Shift the burden of crafting legally sufficient justifications to the candidate/employee as part of the application process. This can be done by providing a standard justification format that prompts the requester to provide the necessary information.
- For ease in assembly, distribution, review, and selection, require the candidate/employee to package his or her application according to a standard format.
- If the agency cannot fund benefits for all eligible applicants, defer validation of loans until after tentative recipients are selected. Loans need not be validated for individuals who will not receive benefits.
- Require an applicant to submit a signed service agreement conditioned on selection for the program, which becomes null and void if he or she is not selected.
- Include consent to disclosure of financial information as part of the service agreement so loan holders will discuss account information with you.
- Require updated (and, if necessary, annotated) account statements as part of initial applications and annual renewals to ensure proper distribution to qualifying loans.
- Withhold renewal payments until the employee corrects any erroneous distributions to non-qualifying loans, which frequently occurs when one loan holder carriers multiple loans.
Additional information on the Department of Justice's Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/oarm/.
Department of State's Student Loan Repayment Program
In the beginning:
- Review other agencies' programs.
- Determine pitfalls.
- Receive assurances from management that program will be funded as a line item in first year's budget.
- Conduct survey samplings.
- Establish criteria for position-based eligibility.
- Coordinate procedural aspects with human resources and payroll offices.
- Obtain approval of policies and procedures by all bureaus/offices of the Department prior to implementation.
- Include unions in policy discussions.
As the program matures:
- Implement multiple communication channels. The Department of State established intranet and Internet Web sites, a Listserv to distribute messages automatically to subscribers, and a program email box exclusively for program exchanges, and funded an offsite postal and faxing service.
- Assure timely customer service. The Department of State implemented a policy that promises a 2-day response time to inquiries, resulting in positive customer feedback.
- Develop an online application system that will populate a database on student loan repayment benefits.