05.02.17

Alexander, Murray to Conduct Rigorous Oversight on Student Aid Tool Outage with Department of Education, Internal Revenue Service

Data retrieval tool that makes it easier for students to apply for student aid was taken down on March 3 citing security concerns

(Washington, D.C.) –Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, respectively sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos yesterday requesting regular briefings from the Department of Education on the outage of the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). Senators Alexander and Murray also requested the Department put forth an action plan that addresses security concerns and resources being used to expedite getting the tool back online, among others.

“We request a briefing for our staff on May 4, 2017 regarding the status of the work toward reinstating the DRT and information we requested on the options for solving and mitigating the burden of the outage,” said the Senators. “We also request that this initial briefing be followed by regular bi-weekly briefings and the Department develop and share an action plan to bring the tool back online as soon as possible with appropriate safety standards to prevent further abuse.”

The DRT is an important tool for students and families filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and borrowers certifying or recertifying their income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. However, on March 3, the Department and the IRS suspended the availability of the DRT because of concerns about the security of taxpayer data, and it remains offline. Following a request by Senators Alexander and Murray and Reps. Foxx (R-NC) and Scott (D-VA), the Department and the IRS briefed staff on the outage and the steps they are taking to get the tool back online. Senators Alexander and Murray and Reps. Foxx and Scott have also requested the Department take steps to assist students while the DRT is unavailable.

The text of the full letter is below and a PDF of the letter can be found here.

 

May 1, 2017

 

 

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

U.S Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

We are writing to request regular briefings for our staff regarding the status of the work toward reinstating the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). We appreciate the staff briefing we received on March 30 from the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regarding the temporary suspension of the DRT. Additionally, we are encouraged by the Department’s recent announcement easing the process of verification for financial aid applicants. However, we remain concerned that students, families, and borrowers do not have access to the DRT and face continued burdens associated with the outage.

On March 3, the Department and the IRS suspended the availability of the DRT because of concerns about the security of taxpayer data. The DRT is an important tool for students and families filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and borrowers certifying or recertifying their income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. Realizing that a significant number of students have yet to complete the 2017-2018 FAFSA, and IDR plan certifications and re-certifications occur year-round, we encourage the Department to prioritize work on a solution that will reinstate the DRT as soon as possible in the current FAFSA application cycle while also ensuring adequate protection for users’ data.

Therefore, we request a briefing for our staff on May 4, 2017 regarding the status of the work toward reinstating the DRT and information we requested on the options for solving and mitigating the burden of the outage. We also request that this initial briefing be followed by regular bi-weekly briefings and the Department develop and share an action plan to bring the tool back online as soon as possible with appropriate safety standards to prevent further abuse. We ask that this action plan detail the specific steps that are being taken to address security concerns of the tool, the communication efforts being employed, the resources being used (internal and external) to expedite getting the tool online, the challenges that may occur as the Department works on an expedited timeline, how the Department plans to address and overcome those challenges, and any options to reinstate the DRT before the announced October deadline.

 Additionally, we are restating our prior request on March 24 regarding additional actions the Department can take now to reduce the complications and burden of the DRT outage for students, families, borrowers, student loan servicers, and institutions of higher education. Thank you for your ongoing attention to this urgent matter.

If you or your staff have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Bob Moran on the Majority Staff and Bryce McKibben on the Minority Staff of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions.

 

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Press Contact

Contact:

Taylor Haulsee: 202-224-8816 (Alexander)

Mairead Lynn: 202-224-5398 (Murray)