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FSA’s Understaffed Workforce Neglected 20% of Workload, GAO Finds

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) has not sufficiently adjusted its staffing levels to account for its growing portfolio.

While the number of student loan borrowers grew 150% from fiscal year (FY) 2010 to FY 2019, FSA’s staffing only increased by 6% and by FY 2020 the agency was unable to complete about 20% of its designated workload.

In creating its report GAO interviewed FSA officials who develop staffing policies and manage the staffing process, and conducted two group interviews with Human Capital staff who implement staffing policies. According to FSA officials, prior to FY 2020 the agency had not conducted a formal workforce review.

“Such a review could determine FSA’s ability to respond to its increasing workload and other challenges, and identify staffing needs and skills gaps,” GAO wrote. “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.”

In the world of student loan lending FSA has an expansive role which covers processing millions of student aid applications every year, educating borrowers on managing their loan repayment in addition to providing oversight to colleges and soliciting and managing the loan servicer contracts.

FSA staff also manage grant and campus-based aid programs, help the office fulfill its enforcement responsibilities, and monitor and certify the financial health of approximately 5,600 colleges that participate in federal student aid programs, among other responsibilities.

Prior to finishing the assessment FSA took immediate steps to address its staffing needs. According to GAO, the office used hiring flexibilities that allowed it to hire more quickly than other government employers.

In response to the report FSA agreed with GAO’s findings and provided additional information on steps it is taking to assess and address its workforce needs.

 

Publication Date: 9/22/2021


Peter G | 9/22/2021 12:29:03 PM

I don't know that this comes as a huge surprise.

At risk of beating the same drum, this is a major part of the risk in bringing back GE in its prior form. Not only was it a tremendous administrative burden on many schools, but also on FSA, and where most of us felt that deeply was in turnaround times for any School Eligibility review: recert, approval of new programs (even non-GE programs) and locations, etc.

Similar to the administrative capability requirements pushed onto schools, the question isn't just whether the work gets done, but whether it's done in a timely fashion and accurately, and with some capacity to likewise continue to progress on long-term structural needs.

Jeff A | 9/22/2021 9:37:49 AM

This is cover for expanding FSA.

Patricia W | 9/22/2021 9:22:16 AM

When direct lending was mandated, didn't anyway look to see how they were going to manage all the questions and concerns of borrowers without a robust customer service center?

Eric M | 9/22/2021 9:21:40 AM

It looks like 20% was left undone - even after putting in extra hours. I'm uncertain how much weight should be put on this number when it came from a workforce assessment that GAO didn't evaluate during their reporting, and we don't know how it was derived or verified. Did I misread it, or was COVID not mentioned at all? I'm surprised it didn't come up during the interviews. Speaking of, I wonder how COVID restrictions impacted the interviews.

Kerstin A | 9/22/2021 8:14:02 AM

Was 20% of the work left undone or were they only completing 20% of the work overall?

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