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A. Wayne Johnson will step down as chief operating officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid after just seven months on the job. But the Department of Education insists the change in leadership doesn't signal a wavering commitment to ambitious projects -- including a mobile app and prepaid card for federal student aid accounts and a restructuring of federal loan servicing contracts.

Johnson will head a new Strategy and Information Office within FSA focused specifically on those initiatives, what the department has branded the "Next Generation" financial services environment. James Manning, the acting under secretary of education, will take over as acting chief operating officer, the department announced last week.

Education department spokeswoman Liz Hill rejected the idea that the move was a demotion for Johnson and said the department envisioned him and Manning as a "tag team" at FSA.

But a source with knowledge of the situation said there was no doubt that the move was a demotion. Manning adds another layer of control at FSA for the department, although if he continues in his role as under secretary, it could raise questions about a political appointee running student aid operations.

In an all-staff email to FSA, Johnson said he recently challenged each employee at the office to "step up" to make their best contributions.

"This transitional change in my leadership position from serving as the COO to my new leadership position as the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer for FSA represents my opportunity to 'step up,'" Johnson wrote. "Having the chance to devote the fullest measure of my time and focus to Next Gen will ensure the environment is implemented on-schedule, on-budget, and aligned with the vision."