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Top Education Officials Were Warned of FAFSA Overhaul Hurdles in 2020

Long before the Education Department’s overhaul of the federal student aid application fell apart this year, officials who now lead the department were warned of a complex and time-consuming effort and its potential pitfalls in 2020, according to internal emails and documents obtained by The New York Times.

The documents anticipated a demanding timetable that would require the department to closely manage its priorities over several years to revamp the application form in time for students’ fall 2022 applications. The documents were prepared by the department’s staff and circulated among soon-to-be top officials after the 2020 election but before President Biden took office, including James Kvaal, the under secretary of education, and Benjamin Miller, a deputy under secretary.

The revelation that the officials were advised to prepare for an arduous process yet still failed to deliver a working form three years later is likely to add to the intense scrutiny the department has faced over the handling of the project, which threw the college application season into chaos earlier this year.

The documents were all distributed in December 2020, as Congress was about to pass a law requiring the department to overhaul the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA. The law, which mandated changes that included whittling the unwieldy 108-question form down to a more manageable 36, originally envisioned the new form being ready for students by the fall of 2022.

In the weeks before Mr. Biden was inaugurated, officials overseeing the presidential transition approached the Education Department to take stock of pending challenges as they began to sketch out the new administration’s priorities among federal agencies.

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