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GAO Says Online Loan Program Behind Schedule

A new General Accounting Office (GAO) study says "critical work" still remains on the Department of Education's online system for streamlining and tracking the federal student financial aid program. The report concludes that the program, operated by the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), is almost year behind schedule.

In 1999, the FSA adopted a new approach to systems integration using middleware and Extensible Markup Language . The system is designed to make it easier to identify, integrate and process information widely dispersed among systems and organizations.

FSA's first use of the approach was the Common Origination and Disbursement (COD) process for the Direct Loan, Pell Grant and campus-based loan programs. The GAO review is an assessment of the FSA's progress in implementing the program.

The GAO report acknowledges that the FSA has made progress in implementing the COD process, particularly in the initial version of the basic COD system, which replaces two existing systems.

"However, the implementation of the COD process is behind schedule, and its ultimate success hinges on FSA's completing critical work," the report states. "Further, there are important elements to managing any information technology investment that the FSA has not completed."

According to the GAO, the FSA has not determined whether expected benefits are being achieved. The report says the FSA has "only some" of the metrics, baseline data and tracking processes "necessary to determine whether it is achieving all expected benefits."