Education Dept.'s new website suffers data leak, malfunctions

While the USAJobs website's struggles have been under scrutiny in recent weeks, the Education Department’s new website for direct student loans also has had troubles -- including the unauthorized release of students’ personal information and other malfunctions.

The personal financial information of up to 5,000 college students was temporarily made public on the department’s Direct Loan website Myedaccount.com for six or seven minutes on Oct. 12, officials said at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training on Oct. 25.

The personal information could be viewed by other students logged onto the site. Those whose information was exposed were been notified and offered credit monitoring services.

“Earlier this month, the Direct Loan website crashed and users were able to see other students’ personal and financial information,” Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., subcommittee chair, said at the hearing. “The implications of this kind of website malfunction are severe.”

The new student loan website created additional headaches for users earlier this month.

“Some student loan borrowers may be having trouble accessing the department’s new Direct Loan Servicing website…or experiencing extended wait times,” Education officials said in an Oct. 14 statement. “We are aware of these issues and are working to address them. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage users having trouble accessing our website or call center to try back at a later time.”

Students who attempted to pay their federal student loans through the new website on Oct. 5 were unable to access the site, according to an Oct. 13 news report on Yahoo. Those who called customer service were told that they could either mail a check or wait until the new website was up on Oct. 10. Students were told there would be no late fee or penalties for waiting.

However, students attempting to log in on Oct. 10 received an error message, the Yahoo report said. Subsequent messages on Oct. 11 and 12 indicated the new website was down for maintenance, Yahoo said.

Customer service also was problematic, with some students told that their calls could not be completed or that there was unusually high call volume, the Yahoo report said.

The website problems have arisen as the federal government began directly servicing federal loans to college students, rather than using banks as middlemen. Congress instituted the change last year. The Education Department in August announced a series of changes for the transition, including debut of the Myedaccount.com website for borrowers.

Education Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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