OPM has told agencies to report on their calendar year 2016 use of student loan reimbursements, one authority agencies can use to attract and keep employees in high-demand occupations where basic salaries are not competitive with the private sector’s.

OPM wants information by March 31 on the numbers of recipients; the pay plan, occupational series, and job title of each; and the total dollar amounts paid out. Under the program, an agency can pay an employee up to $10,000 a year and up to $60,000 lifetime to be used pay off certain types of student loans.

OPM also invited agencies to share best practices and other information and to suggest ways to improve the program. Agencies that made no such payments are to report on whether they have procedures in place or do not intend to establish such a program, and if not, why not.

The most recent report, issued in December, showed that agencies made more use of the authority in 2015 than in 2014, paying 9,610 employees a total of more than $69.5 million, increases of 13 and 18 percent, respectively.

As is traditional, use was concentrated in only a few agencies and occupations. Defense, Justice, State, Veterans Affairs and the SEC accounted for 82 percent of the dollar value and 76 percent of recipients. By occupation, payments most commonly are in engineering, contracting, nursing and certain other medical-related fields, special agents, foreign affairs, attorney-advisers, accountants, HR, health science and various types of analysts.