Lawmakers Ask Education Dept. to Assist Students Affected by Disabled IRS Data Tool

The Republican and Democratic leadership of the Congressional education committees, along with a bipartisan group of 39 other lawmakers, sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, calling on the department to assist students affected by the continued outage of the Internal Revenue Service's data retrieval tool, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The online tool allows students and families to automatically import tax information already on file with the government into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), reducing the chances of a secondary verification process.

Earlier this month, the IRS data retrieval tool for the federal financial aid system went down. Shortly following, Education Department and Internal Revenue Service officials announced that the tool would be unavailable for several more weeks because of concerns about security.

In their letter to Sec. DeVos, the lawmakers—led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA.) and Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA)—requested that the department "provide prominent notice and guidance to students, parents and borrowers" about the unavailable tool and communicate directly with states.

"Protecting taxpayer and student privacy is vitally important, and we’re concerned about any potential attempts to misuse sensitive information," the lawmakers said. "However, we also are concerned about the students and families who will not be able to use the tool for weeks."

The lawmakers asked the agency to allow aid applicants to "use signed copies of their tax returns to satisfy the document requirements of verification" while the tool is down and to help states devise work-arounds, such as pushing back their deadlines for financial-aid applications. Additionally, the letter asked DeVos to ensure that the department's call center can handle the increased call volume from the outage.


Related Links

Letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

The Chronicle of Higher Education