DoD leads the way in student loan repayment program

Thursday - 7/5/2012, 7:22pm EDT

By Keith BieryGolick
Special to Federal News Radio

Hoping to attract and retain the best workers, the Defense Department embraced the student loan repayment program in 2010.

A recent Office of Personnel Management report to Congress showed agencies' financial investment in the student loan repayment program increased by $23.8 million from in 2010 as compared to 2009.

But no other agency saw an increase like DoD, which spent almost $15.5 million more on student loan repayments in 2010 than in 2009.

"The student loan repayment program is an invaluable tool to recruit top talent into federal service and keep highly skilled employees. It is essential that we have tools like the student loan repayment program to maintain a world class workforce to serve the American people," said OPM Director John Berry in a release.

Under the law, agencies can make payments to a loan holder of up to $10,000 for an employee in a calendar year, with an aggregate maximum of $60,000 for any one employee. In return, the employee must sign an agreement to remain at that agency for a period of at least three years.

Program a major factor in DoD recruiting

The report stated DoD employee feedback indicated the program played a major role in recipients' decision to accept a job offer. It also helped with retention, as the report showed DoD retained 94 percent of student loan repayment recipients for three years or longer.

Along with DoD, the departments of Justice and State showed a strong commitment to the program as well. Those three departments provided more than 68 percent of all student loan repayment benefits.

Justice experienced difficulty recruiting employees due to the hazardous nature of the work, remote duty locations and limited applicant pools for specific skill sets, the report stated. The document also said the student loan repayment program often served as the determining factor for individuals who decided to join or remain in DoJ's workforce.

Despite an overall increase in participation, 41 out of 83 reporting agencies didn't provide student loan repayments during 2010 or establish a student repayment program for the future. Several agencies complained in the report that some employees are uncomfortable committing to a minimum three-year service period with one agency, while another agency observed student debt levels continue to increase and found the $10,000 annual limitation to be an obstacle.

Complaints aside, Berry said he supports federal agencies' use of student loan repayment benefits. "OPM will continue to work with agencies to assist them in using student loan repayments, as well as existing flexibilities, to attract and retain employees to support agency mission and program needs."

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report brought to you by United Health Military and Veterans Services. For more defense news, click here.

Keith BieryGolick is an intern with Federal News Radio

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