The Department of Education’s ongoing effort to modernize and replace a 30 year-old system used to process Federal student aid applications is running up against cost and scheduling problems, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a new report.

That effort – called the Award Eligibility Determination (AED) project – is facing “critical gaps” on those two fronts, GAO said in a report published on June 21.

GAO said that the Education Department has made “progress in planning the modernization project,” which has a new system deployment target of December 2023.

“But when the agency estimated costs and developed the project’s schedule, it didn’t account for the cost of government labor or the availability of needed materials and resources,” GAO said. “These estimation problems put the project at risk of cost growth and schedule delays.”

“The project did not develop a life cycle cost estimate to inform the budget. Instead, officials roughly estimated that the office would need approximately $336 million to develop, deploy, and support AED,” the report says.

“Developing a life cycle cost estimate to inform the budget and establishing a reliable schedule are critical steps to ensuring the project does not overrun costs or delay the schedule,” GAO said. “Until project officials take these steps, the project is at risk of cost increases and schedule delays.”

The report offers two main recommendations – FSA’s chief operating officer should ensure the AED project develops the life cycle cost estimate and updates its budget accordingly, and that the officer document its schedule assumption and constraints.  The Education Department concurred with both.

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Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.