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    Subject Term: "Student loans"

    12 publications with a total of 39 open recommendations including 5 priority recommendations
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve oversight of school finances and provide better information to schools and the public about its monitoring efforts, the Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid should update the composite score formula to better measure schools' financial conditions and capture financial risks.

    Agency: Department of Education: Office of Federal Student Aid
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve oversight of school finances and provide better information to schools and the public about its monitoring efforts, the Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid should improve guidance to schools about how the financial composite score is calculated, for example, by updating current guidance to include explanations about common areas of confusion and misinterpretation for schools.

    Agency: Department of Education: Office of Federal Student Aid
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To improve oversight of school finances and provide better information to schools and the public about its monitoring efforts, the Chief Operating Officer of the Office of Federal Student Aid should increase the transparency of public data on schools' financial health by publicly listing the final composite score for each school.

    Agency: Department of Education: Office of Federal Student Aid
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help improve students' access to information so that they can make well-informed transfer decisions, the Secretary of Education should require schools to (1) disclose the list of schools with which they have articulation agreements online if the school has a website, and (2) clearly inform students, on the school's website if it has one, when no articulation agreements on credit transfer are in place. If the department determines that it does not have the authority to require this, it should nonetheless encourage schools to take these actions (through guidance or other means).

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: To help improve students' access to information so that they can make well-informed transfer decisions, the Secretary of Education should provide students and their families with general transfer information, for example by developing a consumer guide and posting it on Education's website or augmenting transfer information already provided on the website, to help increase awareness of key considerations when transferring schools.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: Allison Bawden
    Phone: (202) 512-7215

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To preserve the balance between the importance of repaying federal student loan debt and protecting a minimum level of Social Security benefits put in place by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, Congress should consider modifying Social Security administrative offset provisions, such as by authorizing the Department of the Treasury to annually index the amount of Social Security benefits exempted from administrative offset to reflect changes in the cost of living over time.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2017, Congress has not yet taken action on this matter.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform affected borrowers of the suspension of offset and potential consequences if the borrower does not take action to apply for a TPD discharge. Such information could include notification that interest continues to accrue and that offsets may resume once their disability benefits are converted to retirement benefits.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education does not currently notify borrowers of the suspension of offset, but plans to implement a process to do so in the future using a new mailing sent to affected borrowers by their default servicer. The current budget situation does not allow for this type of enhancement, and it is not clear when that will change. In the interim, the agency is exploring alternative notification approaches that could be put in place prior to the implementation of an automated solution. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should revise forms sent to borrowers already approved for a TPD discharge to clearly and prominently state that failure to provide annual income verification documentation during the 3-year monitoring period will result in loan reinstatement.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) TPD-Post discharge forms contain the recommended language in the first bullet of the Earned Income Section. In order to more clearly provide this information they recommended that the new OMB form, which is in its public comment period, (1) use a larger font size for the form and (2) use "plain language." GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should evaluate the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process, including determining whether the agency has the necessary legal authority to implement such a process.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education stated that over the next six months, they are committed to working with SSA to determine the feasibility and benefits of implementing an automated income verification process. The verification will address both the legal authority to implement such a process as well as operational and budgetary feasibility. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should inform borrowers about the financial hardship exemption option and application process on the agency's website, as well as the notice of offset sent to borrowers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agrees with the recommendation and said that they will include this change in upcoming revisions to the agency's web content. The agency reported that the Notice of Offset to borrowers is sent by Treasury and that they will share this recommendation with Treasury and discuss possible changes to the notice. We will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed this effort.
    Recommendation: To improve program design for Social Security offsets and related relief options, the Secretary of Education should implement an annual review process to ensure that only eligible borrowers are exempted from offset for financial hardship on an ongoing basis.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education reported that it plans plan to fully automate their process for tracking hardships and other exceptions from offset. However, due to competing priorities and funding limitations, full implementation of these improvements have not been scheduled. As they fully implement this process, they will review complementary strategies to assist borrowers in complying with annual reporting requirements. We will monitor the agency's progress.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    6 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should assess and improve, as necessary, the quality of data and methods used to forecast borrower incomes, and revise the forecasting method to account for inflation in estimates.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to assess and improve its borrower income forecasts. The agency reported that it is working with Treasury and other federal partners to obtain the best income data while ensuring that taxpayer privacy is protected to the full extent of the law. Education noted it will establish a timeframe for improvements to the IDR model that allows for adequate and thorough analysis and quality control. It will also consider including an adjustment for inflation in our income estimates and will document the results of our analysis for the next version of the IDR model. The agency wants to guarantee that an inflation adjustment is appropriate for this subpopulation of IDR borrowers, therefore they will conduct further analysis to ensure that any inflation adjustment is appropriately incorporated into the model. The agency anticipates completing these efforts by September 29, 2017. When these efforts are complete, GAO will await documentation that Education has assessed and improved the quality of data quality and methods it uses to forecast borrower incomes, and that it has revised its forecasting methods to account for inflation.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should obtain data needed to assess the impact of income recertification lapses on borrower payment amounts, and adjust estimated borrower repayment patterns as necessary.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to attempt to obtain data to assess the impact of income recertification lapses on borrower payment amounts. The agency reported that it started to collect more detailed information on borrowers who fail to recertify their income. It will analyze these data to see if they can be used to adjust borrower repayment patterns in the model. The agency will also consider whether to include behavioral effects to account for targeted borrower outreach to recertify their income. GAO will monitor the progress of these efforts. Education expects to complete these efforts by September 29, 2017. At that time, GAO will await documentation that Education has obtained the necessary data to assess the impact of recertification lapses on borrower repayment patterns and adjusted estimated borrower repayments in its model, as necessary.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should complete efforts to incorporate repayment plan switching into the agency's redesigned student loan model, and conduct testing to help ensure that the model produces estimates that reasonably reflect trends in Income-Driven Repayment plan participation.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to incorporate repayment plan switching into its redesigned student loan model, and reiterated that efforts to incorporate this capability had begun despite challenges inherent in predicting borrower behavior. GAO will monitor the progress of these efforts.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should, as a part of the agency's ongoing student loan model redesign efforts, add the capability to produce separate cost estimates for each Income-Driven Repayment plan and more accurately reflect likely repayment patterns for each type of loan eligible for these plans.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education asserted that as they redesign its current cost estimation model, it will consider adding the capability to produce separate cost estimates for each IDR plan and allow for separate, more accurate estimates by loan type.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should more thoroughly test the agency's approach to estimating Income-Driven Repayment plan costs, including by conducting more comprehensive sensitivity analysis on key assumptions and adjusting those assumptions (such as the agency's Public Service Loan Forgiveness participation assumption) to ensure reasonableness.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to test its approach to estimating IDR plan costs more thoroughly, including through more comprehensive sensitivity analysis. The agency included in its FY16 Annual Financial Report, sensitivity analyses for Public Service Loan Forgiveness participation and borrower incomes. In the future, the agency will consider conducting additional sensitivity to analyses as well as other kind of analysis to ensure reasonableness. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the agency has completed these efforts.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should publish more detailed Income Driven Repayment plan cost information-- beyond what is regularly provided through the President's budget--including items such as total estimated costs, sensitivity analysis results, key limitations, and expected forgiveness amounts.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to publish more detailed IDR plan cost information and stated that it plans to present sensitivity analysis results and key limitations in upcoming financial reports. GAO will consider closing this requirement when the agency has completed this effort.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure quality information is conveyed to servicemembers about how the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) interest rate cap applies to student loans, the Secretary of Defense should direct the secretaries of each service branch, and work with other secretaries as appropriate, to ensure that all information about the SCRA interest rate cap for student loans is accurate when provided to servicemembers and to those who work with servicemembers to help them obtain SCRA benefits, including information contained in outreach materials.

    Agency: Department of Defense
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) disagreed with this recommendation believing it to be unnecessary because it is already providing accurate information. Specifically, DOD noted that the information provided in several documents GAO reviewed is accurately based on statute whereas Education's updated requirement to automatically apply the cap is based on policy that could change in the future. Moreover, the automated process applies only to federal and commercial FFEL student loans in contrast to other types of debt. DOD said that providing information based on statute rather than policy would cause less confusion and was a better approach than what we recommend. However, our report noted that Education formalized the automated process through federal regulations, effective July 2016, which legally require servicers to use this process for all federal and commercial FFEL loans. In addition, DOD said it was unable to verify whether DOD's Military OneSource website inaccurately states that the SCRA rate cap does not apply to commercial FFEL loans. However, our searches of the website still turned up this inaccuracy. DOD said it would look into a means of verifying website information but that in the meantime, it is satisfied that its training provides correct information. Given that Military OneSource is a key source of information for servicemembers and that some documents DOD provided state that the SCRA rate cap does not apply to student loans, we continue to believe that servicemembers are not always receiving accurate and up-to-date information.
    Recommendation: To ensure that all eligible servicemembers with student loans receive the SCRA interest rate cap, the Attorney General should direct the Department of Justice to consider modifying its proposed changes to SCRA to require use of the automatic eligibility check for private student loans.

    Agency: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Justice (DOJ) stated that its current package of proposed legislative changes provides benefits to servicemembers with all kinds of loans, including private student loans. Rather than requiring servicemembers to submit written notice and a copy of military orders, they need only give oral or written notice of eligibility for the cap to their creditors. Creditors would then have to search the Department of Defense's records to verify the servicemembers' military service and apply the SCRA interest rate cap, when applicable. DOJ believes that these changes would significantly benefit all servicemembers with loans while providing a uniform standard for all types of creditors. The department added that it will consider its proposed changes to SCRA in future legislative proposals and plans to obtain feedback from stakeholders on how to improve SCRA's protections for servicemembers. However, as stated in our report, servicemembers with private student loans would still need to be aware of the rate cap in order to give notice, whether written or oral. Therefore, we encourage DOJ to consider updating its current proposal to require use of the automatic eligibility check by all student loan lenders and servicers. Not only would this ensure that servicemembers with private student loans receive a benefit for which they are eligible, but also that the interest rate cap is applied consistently across all types of student loans. The agency said that it would consider these changes to the SCRA in future legislative proposals and plans to obtain feedback from stakeholders on how the agency can propose to improve the SCRA's protections for servicemembers. However, as stated in our report, servicemembers with private student loans would still need to be aware of the rate cap in order to give notice, whether written or oral. Therefore, we encourage DOJ to consider updating its current proposal to require use of the automatic eligibility check by all student loan lenders and servicers. Not only would this ensure that servicemembers with private student loans receive a benefit for which they are eligible, but also that the interest rate cap is applied consistently across all types of student loans.
    Recommendation: To enhance customer service, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid to identify ways to modify the data collected in its unified borrower complaint system to allow the agency to more precisely identify and analyze complaints specifically about the SCRA interest rate cap.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education said it is committed to accurately tracking the types of complaints it receives and will create a complainant subcategory for SCRA under the "Military and Veterans Benefit" category. In addition, it will continue to run periodic key word searches to identify other complaints that may have been miscategorized by the complainant, related to the requirements of the SCRA, and ensure that they are considered appropriately. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the department has provided evidence that it has completed these efforts.
    Recommendation: To better ensure that servicemembers with private student loans benefit from the SCRA interest rate cap, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Attorney General of the Department of Justice should coordinate with each other, and with the four federal financial regulators, as appropriate, to determine the best way to ensure routine oversight of SCRA compliance for all nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers. If CFPB and DOJ determine that additional statutory authority is needed to facilitate such oversight, CFPB and DOJ should develop a legislative proposal for Congress.

    Agency: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) stated that it is committed to working with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and federal financial regulators, when possible, to facilitate oversight of SCRA compliance and that it will support all relevant federal agencies in using their respective authorities to identify and address SCRA violations as efficiently and effectively as possible. While CFPB coordinates with DOJ and other federal regulators in general, there is still no single agency authorized to enforce SCRA compliance among nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers, and no entity is conducting onsite supervisory reviews of these lenders and servicers. In addition, while CFPB may refer complaints from servicemembers about the SCRA rate cap for private student loans to DOJ and other financial regulators, we believe this does not constitute routine, proactive oversight and also presumes servicemembers are aware of the SCRA rate cap. GAO will consider closing this recommendation when the bureau has provided evidence of actions it has taken to facilitate routine oversight of SCRA compliance for all nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers.
    Recommendation: To better ensure that servicemembers with private student loans benefit from the SCRA interest rate cap, the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Attorney General of the Department of Justice should coordinate with each other, and with the four federal financial regulators, as appropriate, to determine the best way to ensure routine oversight of SCRA compliance for all nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers. If CFPB and DOJ determine that additional statutory authority is needed to facilitate such oversight, CFPB and DOJ should develop a legislative proposal for Congress.

    Agency: Department of Justice: Office of the Attorney General
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Justice (DOJ) believes that it is in full compliance with this recommendation and that the four federal financial regulators do not have statutory authority to examine nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers unaffiliated with a depository institution. DOJ stated that it already coordinates extensively with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the financial regulators concerning SCRA compliance through such mechanisms as referrals from CFPB for any SCRA-related violations and access to its consumer complaint database, and regular meetings with CFPB, and that it will continue to be built upon these efforts. While these mechanisms are commendable, GAO believes they do not constitute exercising routine oversight of nonbank private student loan lenders and servicers who are not affiliated with a depository institution. We believe that additional interagency coordination, including working with CFPB to seek additional statutory authority, as needed, is necessary to ensure routine SCRA compliance.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help address Education's strategic goal of providing superior customer service to borrowers, and to strengthen oversight of the Direct Loan program, the Secretary of Education should develop a minimum standard that specifies core call center operating hours to provide borrowers, including those on the West Coast, with improved access to servicers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed to establish core hours in the requirements for servicers to help borrowers access live customer service representatives. Education also noted that borrowers can use interactive voice response and web technology to access information from their servicers during periods when live operators are not available. While these are additional tools for borrowers, they do not replace the need for access to live representatives, and, as we note in the report, Education's customer satisfaction surveys of borrowers in 2014 and 2015 raised concerns about the usefulness of servicers' automated voice response systems. Establishing core call center hours in servicer requirements, if implemented as Education described, would meet the intent of the recommendation.
    Recommendation: To help address Education's strategic goal of providing superior customer service to borrowers, and to strengthen oversight of the Direct Loan program, the Secretary of Education should ensure the new unified borrower complaint tracking system includes comprehensive and comparable information on the nature and status of borrower complaints made to both Education and servicers, to allow Education to track trends and better manage the program to effectively meet borrower needs.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that it will conduct communication and awareness campaigns to ensure borrowers know of the existence and purpose of the feedback system, which includes comprehensive and comparable information on the nature and status of borrower complaints about servicers. One of the communication channels used will be through the servicers. In addition, the agency reported that it will establish a common borrower experience and common branding in the requirements for the ongoing student loan servicing solicitation by, among other things, requiring the creation of a single web portal clearly labeled as representing the agency. Through that system, all borrowers will be ale to access information, make payments, apply for benefits and manage their accounts. When implemented, this new platform, in conjunction with FSA's Feedback System, will collect complaint information at FSA comprehensively.
    Recommendation: To help address Education's strategic goal of providing superior customer service to borrowers, and to strengthen oversight of the Direct Loan program, the Secretary of Education should evaluate and make needed adjustments to Direct Loan servicer performance metrics and compensation to improve assessment, including using baseline data, and alignment with Federal Student Aid's strategic goals aimed at superior customer service and program integrity, and to ensure that the assignment of new loans to servicers takes program compliance into account.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would evaluate existing and alternative performance metrics and compensation strategies as part of the ongoing student loan servicing procurement. The agency noted that the results of this evaluation, along with information gleaned form other market research conducted in the context of the procurement and proposals submitted by prospective vendors, will be reflected in future servicing contracts.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To strengthen management of the Direct Loan Program and ensure good customer service for borrowers, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review its methods of providing instructions and guidance to servicers, identifying areas to improve clarity and sufficiency, and ensure consistent delivery of instructions and guidance to ensure program integrity and improve service to borrowers. For example, the Department could consider implementing a detailed, common servicing manual for the Direct Loan program.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education agreed with this recommendation and has reviewed its guidance to servicers, as of October 2016. It has issued clarifications to servicers in several areas. In addition, the Department had been in the process of an acquisition for a new loan servicing solution but, as of September 2017, is reassessing its acquisition strategy. While the plan for the revised acquisition is not finalized, FSA expects its approach to significantly streamline the process of communicating instructions and guidance to servicers, as well as improve the overall experience for students and borrowers. Upon resolution of its acquisition strategy, Education needs to demonstrate that its final contract for a new loan servicing solution is structured to provide clear and consistent instructions and guidance to servicers to ensure program integrity and improve service to borrowers.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure that Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness serve their intended beneficiaries to the greatest extent possible, the Secretary of Education should take steps to consistently and regularly notify all borrowers who have entered repayment of income-driven repayment plan options, including Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education generally concurred with our recommendation, stating that it is committed to ensuring the federal student loan borrowers have the information they need to manage their debt, including details regarding income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs. However, Education stated that it is not clear that providing information on repayment options to all borrowers is the most efficient or effective way to achieve this goal. The agency indicated that the steps it is taking to raise awareness about income-driven repayment would include streamlined processes for learning about, applying for, and recertifying eligibility for income-driven repayment plans with enhanced communications targeted to borrowers most likely to benefit from these plans. While these are positive steps, because Education does not have income and family size information needed to determine which borrowers could benefit from income-driven repayment, we maintain it is important for Education to notify all borrowers of these options.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki,
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    5 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to explore and implement ways to raise awareness about the TEACH Grant and the loan forgiveness programs.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education noted that Federal Student Aid disseminates information about these programs through various channels, such as its website, social media, and materials posted to the Financial Aid Took Kit. Annual in-person training is also provided, as well as online guidance on these programs to Financial Aid Officers at Title IV institutions. Education will assess the effectiveness of these sources of program information and seek input from interested organizations outside the agency on ways to better publicize and promote the progress. They will also develop and implement additional outreach efforts and vehicles to more effectively raise awareness both among current and incoming students and, for loan forgiveness among potentially eligible individuals who have already entered the workforce. We will close this recommendation when these efforts are completed. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to take steps to determine why participants are not able to meet TEACH Grant service requirements and examine ways to address those challenges.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In FY 2015, the Department of Education (Education) developed a survey for institutions that offer the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant and grant recipients to assess program issues and challenges. According to documentation posted in the Federal Register, the surveys will be administered in 2016 and will be used as part of a study to improve TEACH Grant program administration. Education has also indicated it is developing plans to analyze existing data on TEACH grant recipients and institutions. We will close the recommendation when the study is complete and Education has examined ways to address the challenges identified. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review the underlying cause of the known erroneous conversions to ensure steps Education has taken are sufficient to address the problem, and establish time frames for transferring the approximately 2,600 loan conversions currently with other loan servicers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education noted it has already taken steps to implement this recommendation, such as a comprehensive assessment to identify the causes of the conversions and the grants affected. After identifying the reasons, they worked with current grant services to ensure accuracy and make sure they understood program requirements. ED will also work with recipients to resolve issues related to grants that were converted in error. All active Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans that were converted from TEACH grants and not in default were transferred to FedLoan Servicing by December 2014. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review the TEACH grant-to-loan conversion dispute process and disseminate to appropriate audiences clear, consistent information on it, including that recipients have an option to dispute, how to initiate a dispute, and the specific criteria considered in the adjudicating process.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education noted steps it has taken to address this recommendation. For example, the agency clarified the TEACH grant conversion dispute process, detailing the specific set of criteria under which FedLoan Servicing is authorized to convert loans back to grants. The agency reported that it will assess the current process for disseminating information on the dispute process to determine whether additional outreach or more extensive information is necessary to ensure that appropriate audiences have access to needed information. We will close this recommendation when this effort has been completed. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to establish program performance measures for the TEACH Grant and the loan forgiveness programs to assess against established goals and to inform program administration.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that it will convene a group to review program data, identify appropriate metrics for which supporting data are available, and establish baselines and targets for those metrics. The agency will then incorporate those metrics, baselines and targets into its ongoing program management and policy development processes. We will close this recommendation when these efforts have been completed. As of August 2017, Education reported that it is preparing a response to address this recommendation.
    Director: J. Christopher Mihm
    Phone: (202) 512-6806

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, to improve Forest Service's customer service standards and feedback review, to: (1) ensure standards include performance targets or goals, (2) ensure standards include performance measures, (3) ensure standards are easily publicly available, (4) develop a feedback mechanism to collect comments agency-wide, which should include guidance or criteria to elevate customer feedback from local and regional offices to identify the need for and to make service improvements.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2017, Forest Service provided an update for completing the tasks necessary to respond to our recommendations. In accordance with our recommendations, for each of its customer service standards, the Forest Service has developed goals, targets and measures and we consider this part of the recommendation closed. Forest Service stated the remaining part of the recommendation will be implemented by December 2018. Specifically, the Forest Service stated by December 2018 it will begin to make standards easily publicly available on its public-facing websites. The Forest Service provided the criteria for elevating customer comments and by December 2018 stated it will begin to deploy and collect feedback forms. We will close this recommendation as implemented when standards are publicly available and customer feedback forms are deployed.
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer, to improve Federal Student Aid's customer service standards and feedback review, to: (1) ensure standards are easily publicly available, (2) develop a feedback mechanism that includes guidance or criteria for service providers to elevate customer feedback to identify the need for and to make service improvements.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: We emailed Department of Education in June 2017 for an update on the status of this recommendation. Once a response is received we will update this recommendation.
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection should, to improve CBP's customer service standards: (1) ensure standards include performance targets or goals, (2) ensure standards include performance measures.

    Agency: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection
    Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2017, CBP sent an email stating that the agency has done all it can to fully implement the recommendation at this time. Because CBP does not have performance goals or targets for customer service standards this recommendation remains open. In April 2016, CBP provided us with customer service survey questions they use to collect data. Based on our review of that information, we were unable to confirm CBP had established performance targets and goals for the data being collected. As we stated in the report, performance goals should be in a quantifiable and measurable form to define the level of performance to be achieved for program activities each year. Although CBP is collecting new customer service data based on survey responses, without predetermined performance targets that align with a customer service standard it is not clear what or if internal targets or customer needs are being met. In June 2017, we emailed CBP for an update on the status of this recommendation. Once a response is received we will update this recommendation.
    Recommendation: Recognizing that moving toward a more customer-oriented culture within federal agencies is likely to be a continuous effort, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, to improve the National Park Service's customer service standards and feedback review, to: (1) ensure standards include performance targets or goals, (2) ensure standards include performance measures, (3) ensure standards are easily publicly available, (4) develop a feedback mechanism that includes guidance or criteria to review and elevate customer feedback from local and regional offices to identify the need for and to make service improvements.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to NPS officials, NPS plans on defining a strategy that describes the intended customer experience for highest customer interactions such as Volunteer in Parks program and Teacher engagement program. NPS will align the strategy with overall organizational strategy, share the strategy with all employees (e.g., documentation, training), and update strategy plans to include performance targets and goals for customer service. NPS also plans on soliciting feedback from customers about their experiences with the VIP and Teacher Outreach Programs, collecting unsolicited feedback from customers about their experiences with the organization (e.g., by mining calls, emails, or social media posts), and gathering input from employees about their experiences with customers and their role in delivering the customer experience. NPS plans to share customer experience metrics and models with all employees (e.g., distribute reports and dashboards, conduct training sessions), publish customer service standards on website so that customers know what to expect, and publish customer service data to ensure actual service levels are transparent. Finally NPS plans on piloting the "Federal Feedback" Button and evaluate for expanded use in fiscal year 2018. In June 2017, we emailed NPS for an update on this recommendation. Once a response is received we will update this recommendation.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    2 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To strengthen Education's oversight of the loan rehabilitation process, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to take steps to ensure that the final monitoring plan for the new defaulted loan information system contract identifies risks presented by the contractor or contract work and the oversight activities planned to address those risks.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: Education concurred with this recommendation and reported that it has developed a contract monitoring plan that tracks explicit deliverables related to key risk areas. Education also reported that the new vendor for the defaulted loan information system is using a methodology, referred to as Lifecycle Management Methodology, that includes risk monitoring and mitigation strategies, and is using an independent verification and validation service to work with the new vendor to ensure that all appropriate processes and controls are in place. With the contract's base period end date of July 31, 2016, GAO will close this recommendation when Education provides documentation of its monitoring reviews that show its contractor is receiving appropriate levels of oversight.
    Recommendation: To strengthen Education's oversight of the loan rehabilitation process, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to take steps to improve its collection agency call review process. For example, Education could take steps to ensure that quarterly rehabilitation call reviews are completed, establish procedures for monitoring collection agency corrective actions, and utilize call review results to inform its oversight of collection agencies activities.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education concurred and reported that it has taken a number of steps to strengthen its call review process. For example, Education reported it has established a target of reviewing each collection agency once per quarter, revised monitoring procedures to improve documentation of corrective actions taken by collection agencies, and developed a database to track errors made by collection agencies. GAO will close this recommendation after Education provides documentation of these efforts and how it is sustaining them over time to ensure collection agencies receive appropriate levels of oversight. The agency did not provide an update for FY15.
    Director: Mctigue Jr, James R
    Phone: (202) 512-7968

    1 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To provide federal policymakers information on the relative effectiveness of Title IV programs and higher education tax expenditures, the Secretary of Education should take advantage of opportunities presented by recent and anticipated substantive program changes to sponsor and conduct evaluative research into the effectiveness of Title IV programs and higher education tax expenditures at improving student outcomes.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: The Department of Education (Education) has made some progress toward sponsoring and conducting evaluative research into the effectiveness of Title IV programs and higher education tax expenditures at improving student outcomes, as GAO recommended. For example, in June 2014, Education signed an agreement with the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) to share data for the purpose of policy development and research. In particular, the agreement allows the agencies to coordinate their data to understand the relationship between Title IV student aid and tax benefits, and to model the effects of potential policy changes. Education officials noted the office of Federal Student Aid is also working with Treasury to generate outcomes data by institution and make that information publicly available. In June 2016, Education officials stated their website would be updated with these new data by the end of the year. In addition, in fiscal year 2014 Education launched the Enterprise Data Warehouse and Analytics (EDW&A) project to provide internal and external stakeholders, including researchers, timely and accurate access to centralized Federal Student Aid data and analytic tools. Education officials said that the agency is in the process of improving EDW&A for a variety of purposes, including research on Title IV program effectiveness. In July 2016, through the Education Research Grants competition, Education's Institute of Education Sciences awarded two grants to researchers looking at the impact of interventions related to applying for federal student aid on college enrollment, attendance, and degree completion. While sponsoring this research represents an important step toward understanding specific financial aid interventions, Education has identified a critical research gap in the area of linking higher education financing to student outcomes, and more evaluative research may be necessary to strengthen the evidence related to key federal strategies and programs. As of May 2017, although Education awarded several grants to evaluate the effectiveness of higher education programs and interventions, most of the studies do not focus on federal assistance. GAO encourages Education to ensure that its data-sharing and future grant efforts result in actively sponsoring or conducting evaluative research on federal higher education assistance programs, and make plans to use the information in future policymaking, as appropriate. Making these data-sharing and research efforts a priority will help policymakers make fact-based decisions on the merits and value of various federal assistance efforts. To fully implement this recommendation, Education needs to ensure that its efforts result in evaluating the effectiveness of Title IV programs and federal higher education tax expenditures.