Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry is urging agencies to use benefits such as student loan repayments prudently. (Thomas Brown / Staff file photo)
The federal government paid nearly $85.7 million in employees’ student loan debts in 2010, a 38 percent increase over the previous year, according to a report.
Thirty-six agencies made the payments for 11,359 employees in 2010, a 34 percent increase in the number of employees helped, the Office of Personnel Management said in a report to Congress released Tuesday.
The bulk of the $23.8 million governmentwide increase came from the Defense Department, which more than doubled its student loan repayment program in 2010 — from $14.0 million in 2009 to $29.5 million. OPM said Defense had a shortage of skills in mission-critical occupations, such as engineering and contracting, due to retirements. DoD increased its student loan program to attract employees with those skills. Defense repaid student loans for 3,865 employees in 2010, including 1,367 engineers and 970 contracting officers.
OPM said that surveys of new Defense employees whose student loans are being repaid show the program was a major factor in their decision to come work at Defense. About 94 percent of employees whose student loans are repaid stay at least the required three years. Employees who leave before the three-year period is up must repay those loans.
The Justice and State departments are the next-biggest users of student loan repayments. Justice repaid $19.4 million in loans to 2,563 employees, which was virtually flat from the 2009 dollar amount.
State’s $9.6 million in loan repayments was a $2.4 million increase from 2009. OPM said much of that was due to the Diplomacy 3.0 Foreign Service hiring initiative. OPM said 95 percent of State employees who received loan repayments since 2002 remained for the required service period.
OPM Director John Berry urged agencies to use benefits such as student loan repayments prudently.
“It is important for agencies to closely monitor the cost of using discretionary tools such as student loan repayments,” Berry wrote in the report’s introduction. “This is especially true during periods of strained fiscal resources such as the one we are currently enduring.”