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Notice

Privacy Act of 1974; System of Records

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

ACTION:

Notice of establishment of new system of records.

SUMMARY:

The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552(e) (4)) requires that all agencies publish in the Federal Register a notice of the existence and character of their systems of records. Notice is hereby given that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is establishing a new system of records entitled “Education Debt Reduction Program-VA” (115VA10).

DATES:

Comments on the establishment of this system of records must be received no later than November 18, 2002. If no public comment is received, the new system will become effective November 18, 2002.

ADDRESSES:

You may mail or hand-deliver written comments concerning the proposed new system of records to the Office of Regulations Management (02D), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20420; or fax comments to (202) 273-9289; or e-mail comments to “OGCRegulations@mail.va.gov”. All relevant material received before November 18, 2002 will be considered. Comments will be available for public inspection at the above address in the Office of Regulations Management, Room 1158, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays).

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Privacy Act Officer, Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20420, telephone (727) 320-1839.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Description of Proposed System of Records

The Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) allows VA to provide education debt reduction payments to employees with qualifying loans who occupy certain health care positions for which recruitment and retention of qualified personnel is difficult. The specific health care professions that are covered by the EDRP include: physician, dentist, podiatrist, licensed pharmacist, licensed practical/vocational nurse, expanded-function dental auxiliary, registered nurse, certified registered nurse anesthetist, physician assistant, optometrist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, certified respiratory therapy technician, and registered respiratory therapist. The purpose of the program is to help VA meet its needs for qualified health care staff.

The Education Debt Reduction Program—VA (115VA10) system of records contains personal identification information related to the application material, to education loan verification documentation, to award processes, to employment status, and to service periods covered by an award such as name, address, social security number, employing facility name, job title, grade, education level, education debt reduction payment amounts, service periods covered by education debt reduction payments, name and address of the lending institution, original loan amount, current loan amount, and loan payment amount. It also contains individual information about applicants who have been denied awards and award recipients who have been terminated from program participation. Additionally, it may contain information about why an applicant declined to accept an award. Since applicants typically are denied awards because they do not meet the eligibility requirements to participate in the program, the specific nature of an applicant's ineligibility would be another element of information contained in the system of records. The information in this system of records is maintained in electronic and hard copy format and is periodically updated through recurring reports provided by local VA facilities about the progress of their program participants. This information is necessary to effectively administer the educational assistance program. It is used to determine and document an individual applicant's initial eligibility for education debt reduction awards; calculate the payment amounts and related service periods for award recipients; ensure that award amounts are consistent with applicable law, regulations and policy; monitor the amount of principal and interest that a participant paid to reduce the balance on a qualifying loan during each service period covered by the award; monitor the employment status of award recipients during their service periods; and evaluate and report program results and effectiveness. Any information in this system may be used by local VA supervisory officials and program coordinators to ensure that it is accurate and that award recipients are in compliance with the terms for participating in the program. Data about individual program participants may change (e.g., changes in employment status), and that could impact certain terms of their awards such as the amounts of the education debt reduction payments and/or the beginning and ending dates of their service periods. Data changes may also impact assessments of the effectiveness of the educational assistance program. Accordingly, local supervisory officials and program coordinators must periodically review individual data in the system of records to ensure its accuracy. There are no debts to recover since each award payment is made at the conclusion of a service period. An individual who leaves before completing a service period is eligible to receive a pro-rata share of the payment for an entire service period based on the amount of time actually served in paid status during the service period.

II. Proposed Routine Use Disclosures of Data in the System

We are proposing to establish the following routine use disclosures of Start Printed Page 64450information, which will be maintained in the system:

  • Any information in this system that is necessary to verify accuracy and completeness of the application information may be disclosed to lending institutions and other relevant organizations or individuals.

VA may need to disclose applicant information in order to verify that candidates for EDRP awards meet applicable program requirements. Employees must meet certain requirements to be eligible to participate in the Education Debt Reduction Program. For example, the applicants must be recently appointed employees serving in one of the authorized positions for which recruitment and retention is difficult. Further, they must owe any amount of principal or interest under a loan, the proceeds of which were used by or on behalf of that individual to pay costs relating to a course of education or training which led to a degree that qualified the individual for a position listed above.

  • Any information in the system may be disclosed to a Federal agency in order to determine if an applicant has any obligation under another Federal Program that would render the applicant ineligible to participate in the EDRP.

Since participation in the EDRP is limited to recently appointed VA employees, it is necessary to ensure that applicants for EDRP awards who have transferred to VA from other Federal agencies do not have obligations that would conflict with the terms and conditions of the program.

  • Any information in the system may be used to evaluate and report program results and effectiveness to appropriate officials including members of Congress on a routine and ad hoc basis.

The purpose of the debt reduction program is to assist in meeting the staffing needs of VHA for health professionals in occupations for which recruitment or retention of qualified personnel is difficult. Congress must have access to information from the system to assess how effectively the program accomplishes its purpose and to support decisions to continue, modify or curtail its use.

  • The record of an individual who is covered by this system may be disclosed to a member of Congress or staff person acting for the member when the member or staff person requests the record on behalf of and at the request of that individual.

Individuals sometimes request the help of a member of Congress in resolving some issues relating to a matter before VA. The member of Congress then writes VA, and VA must be able to give sufficient information to be responsive to the inquiry.

  • To the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) in records management inspections conducted under authority of Title 44 United States Code.

NARA is responsible for archiving old records no longer actively used but which may be appropriate for preservation; they are responsible in general for the physical maintenance of the Federal government's records. VA must be able to turn records over to this agency in order to determine the proper disposition of such records.

  • Disclosure of information to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), including its General Counsel, when requested in connection with the investigation and resolution of allegations of unfair labor practices, in connection with the resolution of exceptions to arbitrator awards when a question of material fact is raised, in connection with matters before the Federal Service Impasses Panel, and to investigate representation petitions and conduct or supervise representation elections.

The release of information to FLRA from this Privacy Act system of records is necessary to comply with the statutory mandate under which FLRA operates.

  • Disclosure may be made to officials of labor organizations recognized under 5 U.S.C. chapter 71 when relevant and necessary to their duties of exclusive representation concerning personnel policies, practices, and matters affecting working conditions.
  • Disclosure may be made to the VA-appointed representative of an employee, including all notices, determinations, decisions, or other written communications issued to the employee in connection with an examination ordered by VA under medical evaluation (formerly fitness-for-duty) examination procedures or Department-filed disability retirement procedures.
  • Disclosure may be made to officials of the Merit Systems Protection Board, including the Office of the Special Counsel, when requested in connection with appeals, special studies of the civil service and other merit systems, review of rules and regulations, investigation of alleged or possible prohibited personnel practices, and such other functions, promulgated in 5 U.S.C. 1205 and 1206, or as may be authorized by law.
  • Disclosure may be made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when requested in connection with investigations of alleged or possible discrimination practices, examination of Federal affirmative employment programs, compliance with the Uniform Guidelines of Employee Selection Procedures, or other functions vested in the Commission by the President's Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978.

III. Compatibility of the Proposed Routine Uses

The Privacy Act permits VA to disclose information about individuals without their consent for a routine use when the information will be used for a purpose that is compatible with the purpose for which VA collected the information. In all of the routine use disclosures described above, either the recipient of the information will use the information in connection with a matter relating to one of VA's programs, will use the information to provide a benefit to VA, or disclosure is required by law.

The notice of intent to publish and an advance copy of the system notice have been sent to the appropriate Congressional committees and to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as required by 5 U.S.C. 552a(r) (Privacy Act) and guidelines issued by OMB (65 FR 77677), December 12, 2000.

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Approved: October 3, 2002.

Anthony J. Principi,

Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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115VA10

System Name:

Education Debt Reduction Program-VA.

System Location:

Records will be maintained at the Health Care Staff Development and Retention Office (HCSDRO/10A2D), Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 1555 Poydras Street, Suite 1971, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112; the Austin Automation Center, Department of Veterans Affairs, 1615 East Woodward Street, Austin, Texas 78772; and the VA health care facilities and VISN offices where scholarship recipients are employed. Address locations for VA health care facilities are listed in VA Appendix 1 of the Biennial Publication of Privacy Act Issuances. Complete records will be maintained only at the HCSDRO address.

Categories of Individuals Covered by the System:

VA employees who apply for and are granted or denied educational assistance awards under the provisions of the VA Education Debt Reduction Program Start Printed Page 64451(EDRP) serving under an appointment under Title 38 U.S.C., Section 7402(b) in a position for which retention of qualified healthcare personnel is difficult.

Categories of Records in the System:

Records (or information contained in records) in this system may include: Personal identification information related to the application material, award processes, employment, and EDRP service periods such as (1) name, (2) employing facility number, (3) telephone number(s), (4) social security number, (5) debt reduction payment amounts, (6) dates of service periods, (7) name and address of the lending institution, (8) academic degree obtained for which EDRP funding is requested, (9) name and address of academic institution, (10) original amount of loan, and (11) current loan balance. Most of this information is contained on the application for an EDRP award including the applicant's full name, employing facility number, home and work telephone numbers, social security number, job title, degree obtained for which funding is requested, name and address of the academic institution, and the amount and number of debt reduction payments requested. The EDRP Loan Verification Form contains the candidate's name and social security number, name and address of the lending institution, original loan amount, current loan amount, and the purpose of the loan as stated on the loan application. The EDRP Acceptance of Conditions contains the name of a candidate approved for an award and the authorized number of debt reduction payments and their related amounts.

Authority for Maintenance of the System:

Title 38, U.S.C., Sections 501, 503, 7451, 7452, and 7431-7440.

Purpose(s):

The records and information may be used for determining and documenting individual applicant eligibility for debt reduction awards; determining the debt reduction payment amounts and the related service periods for award recipients; ensuring that award amounts are consistent with applicable law, regulations and policy; monitoring the employment status of scholarship recipients during their service periods; terminating an employee's participation in the program; and evaluating and reporting program results and effectiveness.

Routine Uses of Records Maintained in the System, Including Categories of Users and the Purposes of Such Uses:

1. Disclosure of any information in this system that is necessary to verify authenticity of the application may be made to lending institutions and other relevant organizations or individuals.

2. Disclosure of any information in this system may be made to a Federal agency in order to determine if an applicant has any obligation under another Federal program that would render the applicant ineligible to participate in the Education Debt Reduction Program.

3. Any information in the system may be used to evaluate and report program results and effectiveness to appropriate officials including members of Congress on a routine and ad hoc basis.

4. Disclosure of information in this system may be made to a member of Congress or staff person acting for the member when the member or staff person requests the records on behalf of and at the request of that individual.

5. Disclosure may be made to the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) in records management inspections conducted under authority of Title 44 United States Code.

6. Disclosure of information to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), including its General Counsel, when requested in connection with the investigation and resolution of allegations of unfair labor practices, in connection with the resolution of exceptions to arbitrator awards when a question of material fact is raised, in connection with matters before the Federal Service Impasses Panel, and to investigate representation petitions and conduct or supervise representation elections.

7. Disclosure may be made to officials of labor organizations recognized under 5 U.S.C. chapter 71 when relevant and necessary to their duties of exclusive representation concerning personnel policies, practices, and matters affecting working conditions.

8. Disclosure may be made to the VA-appointed representative of an employee, including all notices, determinations, decisions, or other written communications issued to the employee in connection with an examination ordered by VA under medical evaluation (formerly fitness-for-duty) examination procedures or Department-filed disability retirement procedures.

9. Disclosure may be made to officials of the Merit Systems Protection Board, including the Office of the Special Counsel, when requested in connection with appeals, special studies of the civil service and other merit systems, review of rules and regulations, investigation of alleged or possible prohibited personnel practices, and such other functions, promulgated in 5 U.S.C. 1205 and 1206, or as may be authorized by law.

10. Disclosure may be made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when requested in connection with investigations of alleged or possible discrimination practices, examination of Federal affirmative employment programs, compliance with the Uniform Guidelines of Employee Selection Procedures, or other functions vested in the Commission by the President's Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978.

POLICIES AND PRACTICES FOR STORING, RETRIEVING, ACCESSING, RETAINING, AND DISPOSING OF RECORDS IN THE SYSTEM:

Storage:

Records are maintained on paper, electronic media and computer printouts.

Retrievability:

Records are retrieved by use of the award number or an equivalent participant account number assigned by HCSDRO, Social Security Number and the name of the individual.

Safeguards:

Access to the basic file in HCSDRO is restricted to authorized VA employees and vendors. Access to the office spaces where electronic media is maintained within HCSDRO is further restricted to specifically authorized employees and is protected by contracted building security services. Records (typically computer printouts) at HCSDRO will be kept in locked files and made available only to authorized personnel on a need-to-know basis. During non-working hours the file is locked and the building is protected by contracted building security services. Records stored on electronic media are maintained on a VA-approved and managed, password-protected, secure local area network (LAN) located within HCSDRO office spaces and safeguarded as described above. Records stored on electronic media at Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) Offices, VA health care facilities and the Austin Automation Center (AAC) in Austin, Texas, are provided equivalent safeguards subject to local policies mandating protection of information subject to federal safeguards.

Retention and Disposal:

Records will be maintained and disposed of in accordance with records Start Printed Page 64452disposition authority approved by the Archivist of the United States.

System Manager(s) and Address:

Director, Health Care Staff Development and Retention Office (10A2D), Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, 1555 Poydras Street, Suite 1971, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112.

Notification Procedure:

Any individual who wishes to determine whether a record is being maintained in this system under his or her name or other personal identifier, or wants to determine the contents of such records, should submit a written request or apply in person to the Director, Health Care Staff Development and Retention Office, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, 1555 Poydras Street, Suite 1971, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112.

Record Access Procedures:

Individuals seeking information regarding access to and contesting of VA records in this system may write, call or visit the Director, Health Care Staff Development and Retention Office (10A2D), Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, 1555 Poydras Street, Suite 1971, New Orleans, Louisiana 70112. The telephone number is (504) 589-5267.

Contesting Record Procedures:

(See Records access procedures above.)

Record Source Categories:

Information contained in the records is obtained from the individual, references given in application material, educational institutions, VA medical facilities, the VA AAC, other Federal agencies, State agencies and consumer reporting agencies.

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[FR Doc. 02-26487 Filed 10-17-02; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 8320-01-P