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Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP.

Contact:

swayne@usaid.gov

or (202) 712-1631

USAID VP VOICE

| BY SHARON WAYNE AFSA NEWS

Federal Student Loan Repayment Program

Following the State Depart-

ment’s recent call for applica-

tions to their Student Loan

Repayment Program, AFSA

has understandably been

deluged with inquiries on the

status of USAID’s SLRP. The

last year USAID offered the

SLRP was 2013.

Despite numerous

meetings with the Office of

Human Capital and Talent

Management in which AFSA

argued that discontinuing the

programwould be a detri-

ment to morale and retention,

USAID announced on Oct. 8,

2014, that SLRP was being put

on hold.

HCTM’s rationale for doing

so ranged from“a lack of

clarity on the demand” for

the program to “the workload

was too much to administer.”

The notice stated that USAID

would evaluate the program

and invest in automation to

reduce errors and improve

efficiency.

Many of the approximately

800 new USAID officers hired

in recent years are paying

off student loans. Thanks to

member feedback, we know

that USAIDmembers highly

value the SLRP, and that

demand for the program is

undeniable.

The Office of Personnel

Management continues to

support federal agencies’ use

of student loan repayment

programs to recruit and retain

a world-class workforce to

serve the American people.

Although it is true that

OPM also encourages agen-

cies to establish metrics to

demonstrate the value of

using SLRP and other discre-

tionary incentives to ensure

that taxpayer money is being

used wisely, nowhere does

it suggest discontinuing the

programwhile such metrics

are developed.

Where Is the Money?

To make matters worse,

the Office of Human Capital

and Talent Management

advertises SLRP as a benefit,

and AFSA understands that

the office still receives $3.5

million for the student loan

repayment program in their

budget.

The job announcement

(see solicitation BS-21

FS-05/04 FEB 2016 to hire

foreign private enterprise

officers) clearly states that

USAID offers numerous

benefits, including “assistance

with repayment of student

loans.”

It is not clear to AFSA

where this money is going

and what progress has been

made toward reinstituting the

program.

Federal agencies’ authority

to establish the SLRP incen-

tive to recruit or retain highly

qualified personnel comes

from 5 U.S.C. 5379 and 5 CFR

part 537. Agencies must sub-

mit an annual report to OPM

by March 31 on their use of

student loan repayment funds

during the previous calendar

year.

The report must not only

address the number of recipi-

ents, their positions and the

total dollar amount awarded;

it also must include informa-

tion regarding best practices,

lessons learned, program

effectiveness, metrics devel-

oped to measure program

success, program impedi-

ments and ways to improve

the student loan repayment

program.

Because SLRP is an

incentive and not technically

a “benefit,” its provision is

not required; however, if an

agency chooses not to provide

an SLRP, it must still submit

a report stating whether it

intends to establish one and,

if not, indicate the primary

reason(s) why not.

The OPM Report

According to the 2013

OPM report to Congress on

SLRP, USAID reported that it

awarded $2.3 million in stu-

dent loan repayment benefits

to 279 employees.

State reported its numbers

for the same year and elabo-

rated, stating that “as a result

of the growth in participation

and because of employee

feedback, State believes the

program is having a positive

impact in supporting both

recruitment and retention

efforts.”

Why USAID doubts this

would be the case at the

agency—even when its own

FSO cadre are telling them the

program is needed—is beyond

me.

AFSA has asked numerous

times for an update on the

evaluation and reinstatement

of SLRP at USAID and has

received the same reply every

time: “No further updates due

to the HCTM transformation.”

Attempts to get at answers

by asking what will be submit-

ted to OPM by March 31, what

was sent last year, and what

stage the SLRP evaluation is

at resulted in yet another non-

response: “All programs and

initiatives are being reviewed

through the lens of the

Human Resources transfor-

mation, so currently there are

no updates.”

These basic questions

could have easily been

answered.

AFSAwelcomes HCTM’s

push for more accountability

throughout the agency; the

SLRP is a prime example of

an area where it is needed.

AFSA supports student-loan

repayment for career appoint-

ments, regardless of backstop,

as a way to assure diversity,

fairness in hiring and reten-

tion of USAID’s most valuable

asset—its workforce.

n

We know that USAID members highly

value the SLRP, and that demand for the

program is undeniable.

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

MAY 2016

67