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GAO Report: Office of Federal Student Aid Is Understaffed

September 21, 2021
 
 

The Office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education is understaffed, as its staffing levels haven’t kept pace with the growing student loan portfolio, according to findings by the Government Accountability Office.

From fiscal year 2010 to 2019, FSA’s Direct Loan volume increased 450 percent and the number of borrowers increased 150 percent, but the number of staff increased only 6 percent during that time frame. The understaffing is shown in the office’s inability to complete all its work -- a workforce assessment conducted by FSA showed that in fiscal year 2020, staff failed to complete almost 20 percent of its workload, even after employees worked overtime and supervisors picked up extra work.

"Prior to fiscal year 2020, FSA had not conducted a formal workforce review, according to officials," the report said. "Without a workforce review, FSA staffing levels and expertise did not sufficiently adjust as student aid programs grew in size and complexity, according to officials. Instead, FSA based hiring decisions on available funding and did not directly tie these decisions to its workforce needs."

FSA began addressing its staffing shortage during the last fiscal year by increasing its hiring and prioritizing hiring for certain critical positions, including acquisition staff, data scientists and analysts, institutional review staff, attorneys, and project managers. It ended fiscal year 2020 with 1,462 employees, an increase of 17 percent from the previous year.

It also reorganized 15 offices that reported to the chief operating officer into five new offices that report to a deputy chief operating officer, as well as a temporary office focused on building Next Gen, the new student loan servicing system. The reorganization is intended to keep employees from having more work than they can handle.

"According to officials, these immediate efforts combined with ongoing workforce management planning will help achieve a key strategic workforce objective: to attract, retain, and develop a workforce capable of driving and implementing organizational change," the report said. "Moving forward, officials plan to continually assess and refine workforce priorities and leverage [performance-based organization] flexibilities to address FSA’s critical staffing needs."

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