OPM: Paying college loans a big draw in government

A report issued this week by the Office of Personnel Management states the Student Loan Repayment Program has been paying off for agencies in recruiting and retaining government employees.

Investment in loan benefits has increased exponentially since the first year of the program in 2002, from $3.1 million to about $28 million in 2005. Overall, 30 agencies employed their own versions of the SLRP, which paid 4,409 federal workers an average of $6,350 for the year. Mechanical engineers and IT management workers made up 7.4 percent of the employees who took advantage of the program.

The Justice Department spent the most money on the largest number of workers: more than $10 million for almost 1,100 employees.

In its comments, OPM said the program was particularly useful for difficult-to-fill positions. Other agencies mentioned that retention rates have increased and some employees see the repayments as a motivating factor to continue with federal work.

The report also details some of the major difficulties of the program. Funding is an issue that could become troublesome if more loan-stacked students enter the federal workforce. Some agencies said small budgets prevented them from making any payments at all. Additional administrative infrastructure to accommodate the program would also create a burden on agency budgets, it said.

Also, workers pay payroll taxes on the benefits and must spend three years employed in federal service before they can take advantage of the program. The State Department reported that its workers received only about two-thirds of their lump sum payments.

“I think it’s all good news,” said John M. Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service. Palguta said the program was an issue “near and dear to the hearts” of the Partnership.

Palguta also agreed that the impediments on loan programs detailed in the report were accurate. Budgets are always be tight when it comes to loan repayment and “I don’t see it getting much better,” he said.

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