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    Subject Term: "Student financial aid"

    13 publications with a total of 41 open recommendations including 3 priority recommendations
    Director: Nick Marinos
    Phone: (202) 512-9342

    7 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Chief Operating Officer of FSA to establish and document a procedure for the destruction of records contained in electronic systems in accordance with approved disposition schedules. (Recommendation 1)

    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: The Secretary of Education should direct the Chief Operating Officer of FSA to ensure staff receive records management training annually. (Recommendation 2)

    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: The Secretary of Education should direct the Chief Operating Officer of FSA to conduct the triennial assessment of the FSA records management program. (Recommendation 3)

    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: The Secretary of Education should direct the Chief Operating Officer of FSA to ensure that privacy impact assessments address all required elements. (Recommendation 4)

    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: The Secretary of Education should direct the Chief Operating Officer of FSA to ensure that information security-related policies and procedures are reviewed at least annually, in accordance with FSA policy; updated as needed; and approved by security officials. (Recommendation 5)

    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: The Secretary of Education should incorporate into its program review process the review of postsecondary schools' information security program requirements. (Recommendation 6)

    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: The Secretary of Education should update its regulation to include protections of personal information as an element of a school's ability to demonstrate its administrative capability. (Recommendation 7)

    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: 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: Education disagreed with this recommendation, noting that it already requires schools to disclose a list of other schools with which they have established articulation agreements. Given that the purpose of required consumer disclosures on articulation agreements is to inform students, we believe that posting this information online would make it more accessible to prospective students compared to publications located physically on a school's campus. The increased accessibility would be especially beneficial for prospective students who live far away from the school. Education also noted that students should contact specific schools to obtain accurate and updated information. While it is important for students to contact schools, we found that not all schools listed transfer-specific contacts on their websites. Thus, it is particularly important that the required consumer information on articulation agreements be easily accessible to students. Moreover, according to Education, online disclosure is already required with respect to a school's credit transfer policies if the school has a website, and schools are increasingly using their websites to provide other consumer information to students. In addition, Education cautioned that placing special emphasis on articulation agreements could mislead students because the agreements - or lack thereof - do not fully reflect the transferability of credits: if the few schools with articulation agreements are listed on the school's website or if a school notes that it has no articulation agreements, students may erroneously believe that their credits will transfer only to those few schools or that none of their credits will transfer. However, regardless of the number of articulation agreements a school may have, schools are already legally required to disclose the list of partner schools and we found that a majority of schools already disclose a list of partner schools on their websites. It is unclear why posting this required information online would be more confusing than disclosing this information through publications or other means. Further, according to Education, schools are also legally required to disclose their credit transfer policies online, in effect, outlining the circumstances under which students can generally transfer credits. Hence, using a school's website to disclose the list of other schools with which there are articulation agreements, or the fact that there are no agreements, would enhance students' understanding of their transfer options and help reduce confusion rather than mislead students.
    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: Education agreed with this recommendation and said that it plans to include this information on its studentaid.gov website. We will monitor the progress of this and other efforts.
    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

    7 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help foster and unaccompanied homeless youth better navigate the college admissions and federal student aid processes, the Secretaries of Education and HHS should jointly study potential options for encouraging and enabling child welfare caseworkers, McKinney-Vento homeless youth liaisons, and other adults who work with these youth to more actively assist them with college planning.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, Education reported that it is continuing its efforts to address the recommendation. In May 2016, Education, working with the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a Foster Youth Transition Toolkit, which addresses both financial aid and college admissions processes. The toolkit was written for youth in or formerly in foster care rather than for professionals who serve these youth. Education noted that it had also posted a Homeless Youth Fact sheet for teachers and other professionals on its website in July. Education said that it will continue to work with HHS and the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth about college admissions and federal student aid processes for foster and unaccompanied homeless youth. Education also plans to conduct a technical assistance webinar for McKinney-Vento homeless youth liaisons and to provide technical assistance for other programs. Making such information available on Education's website is an encouraging step, as are plans to conduct webinars for professionals who work with homeless youth. We look forward to the implementation of these plans. However, we continue to believe that HHS and Education should consider ways to encourage more active college planning efforts among professionals who work with homeless and foster youth that consider professional staff's competing goals and priorities and multiple responsibilities.
    Recommendation: To help foster and unaccompanied homeless youth better navigate the college admissions and federal student aid processes, the Secretaries of Education and HHS should jointly study potential options for encouraging and enabling child welfare caseworkers, McKinney-Vento homeless youth liaisons, and other adults who work with these youth to more actively assist them with college planning.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS, working with the Department of Education, issued a Foster Youth Transition Toolkit in May 2016 which encourages current and former foster youth to pursue college and addresses both financial aid and college admissions processes. The toolkit was written for youth in or formerly in foster care, and HHS considers it a resource for unaccompanied homeless youth as well as for the adults who serve these youth. Making such information available through this joint publication is an encouraging step. However, child welfare caseworkers, school homelessness liaisons, and other professionals who work with homeless and foster youth have competing goals and priorities and multiple responsibilities. To encourage and facilitate college planning and admissions efforts, Education and HHS would need to carefully consider professional staff's workloads, responsibilities, and training needs, among other issues, and develop some options for encouraging college planning efforts among professionals in these programs who work with homeless and foster youth. HHS did not provide an update for FY 2017.
    Recommendation: To help foster and unaccompanied homeless youth, as well as adults who assist these youth, better navigate the federal student aid process and obtain information about college resources, the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of HHS, should create webpages directed to homeless and foster youth so they can more easily find tailored and centralized information about available federal and other resources, such as Pell Grants, Chafee Education and Training Voucher Program (Chafee ETV Vouchers), and waivers for college admission tests.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, Education reported that it is continuing its efforts to address the recommendation. In addition to having a webpage about foster youth, Education noted that in April 2016 it had created a new webpage with resources for homeless children and youth. In July 2016, Education developed and posted online a Foster Care Transition Toolkit and a Fact Sheet on federal student aid for homeless youth that is available through its resources webpage. The development and posting of these materials on the agency's website offers helpful resources to foster and homeless youth; however, Education should also make it easier for these youth, who often lack adult support, to find these documents easily--such as by referring to them on the page that says who is eligible for federal student aid--without lengthy searching of the Website.
    Recommendation: To help college financial aid administrators more effectively implement eligibility rules for unaccompanied homeless youth, the Secretary of Education should make available an optional worksheet or form that college financial aid administrators can voluntarily use to document unaccompanied homeless youth status or encourage the use of existing forms that are available.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed that it would be helpful to make forms developed by outside organizations knowledgeable about homelessness issues available for financial aid administrators to use for documenting the status of unaccompanied homeless youth. Education also said that it plans to highlight the availability of these forms and provide guidance at its annual conference and in updates to the Federal Student Aid Handbook. Education noted that it will not endorse the use of a specific form but that it will highlight forms that already exist that may be useful to financial aid administrators. In 2017, Education reported that it is continuing its efforts to address the recommendation. We look forward to Education making such forms available for college financial aid administrators so that they can more effectively implement eligibility rules for unaccompanied homeless youth.
    Recommendation: To help homeless youth more easily access federal student aid, the Secretary of Education should clarify its guidance to financial aid administrators and students about whether financial aid administrators should accept any unaccompanied homeless youth determination provided by McKinney-Vento homeless liaisons or other authorized officials even if a student is not in high school or receiving program services.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, Education reported that it is continuing its efforts to address the recommendation. In June 2016, Education posted questions and answers about federal student for homeless youth on its website and in July, the agency posted a fact sheet about Homeless Youth on its webpage for teachers and other professional staff. However, neither document states whether financial aid administrators should accept any unaccompanied homeless youth determination provided by McKinney-Vento liaisons or authorized officials even if a student is not in high school or receiving program services. In July 2016, Education issued guidance for the McKinney-Vento program specifying that a local liaison may continue to provide verification of a youth's homelessness status for federal student aid purposes for as long as the liaison has access to the information necessary to make such a determination for a particular youth. The guidance also stated that local homelessness liaisons should ensure that all homeless high school students receive information and counseling on college-related issues. Education said that it will also hold a technical assistance webinar for McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program liaisons. In the 2017-18 Application and Verification Guide for financial aid administrators, Education clarified circumstances under which authorized officials may provide documentation of unaccompanied homelessness for a person who is no longer officially receiving services. The updated guide also noted that local homelessness liaisons may write subsequent year letters of verification for unaccompanied homeless youth through age 23 for whom they have the necessary information to write such letters and that this documentation is acceptable for verifying unaccompanied homelessness. The agency should also update the question and answer factsheet on federal student aid for homeless students so that the information on unaccompanied homeless youth determinations is presented consistently in these key documents.
    Recommendation: To enhance access to federal student aid for unaccompanied homeless youth, the Secretary of Education should consider developing a legislative proposal for congressional action to simplify the application process so that once a student has received an initial determination as an unaccompanied homeless youth, the student will not be required to have that status re-verified in subsequent years but attest to their current status on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, unless a financial aid administrator has conflicting information.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, Education reported that it is continuing its efforts to address the recommendation. In July 2016, Education said that the department had proposed further simplification of the FAFSA in its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal. Education stated that it will also consider the feasibility of a legislative proposal to not require re-verification of homelessness after a student has received an initial determination. Such a legislative proposal would enhance access to federal student aid for unaccompanied homeless youth.
    Recommendation: To simplify program rules for Chafee ETV vouchers and improve access to these vouchers for former foster youth ages 21 and 22, the Secretary of HHS should consider developing a legislative proposal for congressional action to allow foster youth to be eligible for the Chafee ETV voucher until age 23 without also requiring that they start using the voucher before they turn 21.

    Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
    Status: Open

    Comments: HHS's budget request for fiscal year 2018 does not contain a legislative proposal to improve access to Chafee vouchers for former foster youth ages 21 and 22. In July 2016, HHS noted that it had made a proposal for mandatory programs to improve foster youth's access to vouchers for title IV-E Chafee programs in the Administration for Children and Families' fiscal year 2017 budget request. However, the agency explained that the proposal's purpose is to extend eligibility for Chafee Foster Care Independence Program (CFCIP) services to youth up to age 23 in jurisdictions that have extended foster care to age 21. According to HHS, the budgetary proposal does not affect the Chafee Vouchers. A legislative proposal to simplify program rules for Chafee ETV vouchers would support improving access to these vouchers for former foster youth ages 21 and 22.
    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: Jacqueline M. Nowicki,
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    4 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: In its initial response, 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. In September 2017, Education provided an update of the steps it has taken to increase awareness of the teacher loan forgiveness program. However, documentation is needed to demonstrate that the initial correspondence with borrowers, servicers' websites, and exit counseling include information on both programs.
    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 2017, Education reported that, as a result of its 2016 survey to TEACH Grant recipients whose grant had converted to a loan, the agency determined that grantees faced challenges with recertification, including that the existing certification form was too confusing. To help borrowers, Education plans to create three different forms to help both completers and non-completers meet program certification requirements. We will close the recommendation when the forms are finalized and available to grant recipients.
    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: In its initial response, 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, the agency 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. In September 2017, Education provided documentation that the loan conversions were transferred to one servicer in December 2014. GAO is requesting additional documentation on the assessment Education and the servicer conducted on underlying causes of the erroneous conversions.
    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: In its initial response, 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. In September 2017, Education reported that it included new language when it corresponds with TEACH grant recipients. However, the information was not included on the servicer's website. We will consider closing this recommendation once that information is provided.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To strengthen Education's oversight of accreditors through the recognition review process, the Secretary of Education should draw upon accreditor data to determine whether accreditors are consistently applying and enforcing their standards to ensure that the education offered by schools is of sufficient quality. For example, Education could systematically use available information related to the frequency of accreditor sanctions or could do additional analyses, such as comparing accreditor sanction data with Education's information on student outcomes, to inform its recognition reviews.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education agreed with this recommendation, noting that it is committed to identifying ways to use data about and from accreditors in its oversight. As of December 2017, Education has taken steps to track the number of accreditor sanctions issued by each accrediting agency. Education previously noted that this information will then be used to focus their limited resources on those accrediting agencies with extremely low or high sanction rates, to strengthen its oversight of accreditors. GAO will close this recommendation when these efforts are completed.
    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. Education reported it conducted a review of rehabilitation calls with a specific focus on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. The results of the review indicated certain collection agencies were not consistently acting in the best interest of borrowers, taxpayers, and the government. As a result five collection agency task orders were allowed to wind down in April 2015. Education also reported that as of April 2015, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) increased call monitoring on rehabilitation calls from 20 a quarter per collection agency to at least 20 per month per collection agency. FSA secured a third party vendor in September 2015 to assist with its call monitoring efforts with the expectation that the vendor would be responsible for reviewing an additional 2,500 calls per month. Education also committed to conducting on-site reviews of each collection agency at least annually beginning in December 2015. GAO will close this recommendation when Education provides monthly data on call reviews conducted by FSA and its third-party vendor from April 2015 to the most recent month available and documentation of the on-site reviews of collection agencies that FSA has conducted since December 2015. Although Education provided an update for this report in FY17, it did not include an update for this particular recommendation.
    Director: St James, Lorelei
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As part of the development of a national maritime strategy and a national freight strategic plan, the Secretary of Transportation should direct MARAD--in consultation with maritime industry stakeholders--to study and identify any potential problems in ensuring that U.S. mariners are adequately trained to meet the needs of the entire maritime industry, including the domestic waterways. Public forums, such as MARAD's roundtable discussions, could serve as a means for gaining industry input on potential training issues.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: On April 7, 2017 GAO requested an update on the status of MARAD's position on whether or not the recommendation would be implemented. In June 2016, MARAD indicated that it had not made this determination. In response to GAO's latest inquiry, MARAD indicated that it was in the process of checking on whether any action had been taken within the agency to implement the recommendation.
    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.