The Secretary, in cooperation with representatives of agencies and organizations involved in student financial assistance, shall produce, distribute, and process free of charge common financial reporting forms as described in this subsection to be used for application and reapplication to determine the need and eligibility of a student for financial assistance under parts A through E (other than under subpart 4 of part A). The forms shall be made available to applicants in both paper and electronic formats and shall be referred to as the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” or the “FAFSA”. The Secretary shall work to make the FAFSA consumer-friendly and to make questions on the FAFSA easy for students and families to read and understand, and shall ensure that the FAFSA is available in formats accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The EZ FAFSA shall permit an applicant to submit, for financial assistance purposes, only the data elements required to make a determination of whether the applicant meets the requirements under subsection (b) or (c) of section 1087ss of this title.
The Secretary shall include on the EZ FAFSA such data items as may be necessary to award State financial assistance, as provided under paragraph (5), except that the Secretary shall not include a State’s data if that State does not permit the State’s resident applicants to use the EZ FAFSA for State assistance.
The Secretary shall make all efforts to encourage all applicants to utilize the electronic version of the forms described in paragraph (3).
The Secretary shall maintain a version of the paper forms described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) in a printable electronic file that is easily portable, accessible, and downloadable to students on the same website used to provide students with the electronic version of the forms described in paragraph (3).
The Secretary shall provide a printed copy of the full paper version of FAFSA upon request.
The simplified electronic version of the forms shall permit an applicant to submit, for financial assistance purposes, only the data elements required to make a determination of whether the applicant meets the requirements under subsection (b) or (c) of section 1087ss of this title.
Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit the use of the forms developed by the Secretary pursuant to this paragraph by an eligible institution, eligible lender, guaranty agency, State grant agency, private computer software provider, a consortium thereof, or such other entities as the Secretary may designate.
The Secretary shall include on the electronic version of the forms such items as may be necessary to determine eligibility for State financial assistance, as provided under paragraph (5), except that the Secretary shall not require an applicant to enter data pursuant to this subparagraph that are required by any State other than the applicant’s State of residence.
The data collected by means of the simplified electronic version of the forms shall be available to institutions of higher education, guaranty agencies, and States in accordance with paragraph (10).
The Secretary shall ensure that data collection under this paragraph complies with section 552a of title 5 and that any entity using the electronic version of the forms developed by the Secretary pursuant to this paragraph shall maintain reasonable and appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the information, and to protect against security threats, or unauthorized uses or disclosures of the information provided on the electronic version of the forms. Data collected by such electronic version of the forms shall be used only for the application, award, and administration of aid awarded under this subchapter, State aid, or aid awarded by eligible institutions or such entities as the Secretary may designate. No data collected by such electronic version of the forms shall be used for making final aid awards under this subchapter until such data have been processed by the Secretary or a contractor or designee of the Secretary, except as may be permitted under this subchapter.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Secretary may continue to permit an electronic version of the form under this paragraph to be submitted without a signature, if a signature is subsequently submitted by the applicant or if the applicant uses a personal identification number provided by the Secretary under subparagraph (G).
The Secretary shall continue to work with the Commissioner of Social Security to minimize the time required for an applicant to obtain a personal identification number when applying for aid under this subchapter through an electronic version of a form developed under this paragraph.
The Secretary shall continue to streamline reapplication forms and processes for an applicant who applies for financial assistance under this subchapter in the next succeeding academic year subsequent to an academic year for which such applicant applied for financial assistance under this subchapter.
The Secretary shall determine, in cooperation with States, institutions of higher education, agencies, and organizations involved in student financial assistance, the data elements that may be transferred from the previous academic year’s application and those data elements that shall be updated.
Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed as limiting the authority of the Secretary to reduce the number of data elements required of reapplicants.
Of the number of data elements on the FAFSA used for the 2009–2010 award year, the Secretary, in cooperation with representatives of agencies and organizations involved in student financial assistance and consistent with efforts under subsection (c), shall continue to reduce the number of such data elements required to be entered by all applicants, with the goal of reducing such number by 50 percent.
Except as provided in paragraphs (2)(B)(iii), (3)(B), and (4)(A)(ii), the Secretary shall include on the forms developed under this subsection, such State-specific data items as the Secretary determines are necessary to meet State requirements for need-based State aid. Such items shall be selected in consultation with State agencies in order to assist in the awarding of State financial assistance in accordance with the terms of this subsection. The number of such data items shall not be less than the number included on the form for the 2008–2009 award year unless a State notifies the Secretary that the State no longer requires those data items for the distribution of State need-based aid.
The Secretary shall encourage States to take such steps as are necessary to encourage the use of simplified forms under this subsection, including those forms described in paragraphs (2)(B) and (3)(B), for applicants who meet the requirements of subsection (b) or (c) of section 1087ss of this title.
If a State does not permit an applicant to file a form described in paragraph (2)(B) or (3)(B) for purposes of determining eligibility for State need-based financial aid, the Secretary may determine that State-specific questions for such State will not be included on a form described in paragraph (2)(B) or (3)(B). If the Secretary makes such determination, the Secretary shall advise the State of the Secretary’s determination.
The need and eligibility of a student for financial assistance under parts A through E (other than under subpart 4 of part A) may be determined only by using a form developed by the Secretary under this subsection. Such forms shall be produced, distributed, and processed by the Secretary, and no parent or student shall be charged a fee by the Secretary, a contractor, a third-party servicer or private software provider, or any other public or private entity for the collection, processing, or delivery of financial aid through the use of such forms. No data collected on a form for which a fee is charged shall be used to complete the form prescribed under this section, except that a Federal or State income tax form prepared by a paid income tax preparer or preparer service for the primary purpose of filing a Federal or State income tax return may be used to complete the form prescribed under this section.
No person, commercial entity, or other entity may request, obtain, or utilize an applicant’s personal identification number assigned under paragraph (3)(G) for purposes of submitting a form developed under this subsection on an applicant’s behalf.
The Secretary shall enable students to submit forms developed under this subsection and initiate the processing of such forms under this subsection, as early as practicable prior to January 1 of the student’s planned year of enrollment.
Institutions of higher education, guaranty agencies, and States shall receive, without charge, the data collected by the Secretary using a form developed under this subsection for the purposes of processing loan applications and determining need and eligibility for institutional and State financial aid awards. Entities designated by institutions of higher education, guaranty agencies, or States to receive such data shall be subject to all the requirements of this section, unless such requirements are waived by the Secretary.
To the extent practicable and in a timely manner, the Secretary shall provide, to private organizations and consortia that develop software used by institutions of higher education for the administration of funds under this subchapter, all the necessary specifications that the organizations and consortia must meet for the software the organizations and consortia develop, produce, and distribute (including any diskette, modem, or network communications) to be so used. The specifications shall contain record layouts for required data. The Secretary shall develop in advance of each processing cycle an annual schedule for providing such specifications. The Secretary, to the extent practicable, shall use multiple means of providing such specifications, including conferences and other meetings, outreach, and technical support mechanisms (such as training and printed reference materials). The Secretary shall, from time to time, solicit from such organizations and consortia means of improving the support provided by the Secretary.
The Secretary is authorized to include space on the forms developed under this subsection for the social security number and birth date of parents of dependent students seeking financial assistance under this subchapter.
Copies of all rules, regulations, guidelines, instructions, and application forms published or promulgated pursuant to this subchapter shall be provided to the authorizing committees at least 45 days prior to their effective date.
The Secretary shall contract for, or establish, and publicize a toll-free telephone service to provide timely and accurate information to the general public. The information provided shall include specific instructions on completing the application form for assistance under this subchapter. Such service shall also include a service accessible by telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD’s) and shall, in addition to the services provided for in the previous sentence, refer such students to the national clearinghouse on postsecondary education or other appropriate provider of technical assistance and information on postsecondary educational services for individuals with disabilities, including the National Technical Assistance Center under section 1140q of this title. The Secretary shall continue to implement, to the extent practicable, a toll-free telephone based system to permit applicants who meet the requirements of subsection (b) or (c) of section 1087ss of this title to submit an application over such system.
Notwithstanding any provision of this chapter, an applicant may use a preparer for consultative or preparation services for the completion of a form developed under subsection (a) if the preparer satisfies the requirements of this subsection.
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to limit preparers of the forms required under this subchapter that meet the requirements of this subsection from collecting source information from a student or parent, including Internal Revenue Service tax forms, in providing consultative and preparation services in completing the forms.
The Secretary is authorized to waive, for an institution of higher education participating in the demonstration program, any requirements under this subchapter, or regulations prescribed under this subchapter, that will make the demonstration program unworkable, except that the Secretary shall not waive any provisions with respect to the maximum award amounts for grants and loans under this subchapter.
The Secretary shall make appropriate efforts to notify States of the demonstration program under this subsection. Upon determination of participating States, the Secretary shall continue to make efforts to notify institutions of higher education and dependent students within participating States of the opportunity to participate in the demonstration program and of the participation requirements.
Not later than 90 days after August 14, 2008, the Comptroller General shall convene a study group the membership of which shall include the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, representatives of institutions of higher education with expertise in Federal and State financial aid assistance, State chief executive officers of higher education with a demonstrated commitment to simplifying the FAFSA, and such other individuals as the Comptroller General and the Secretary of Education may designate.
The Secretary shall utilize savings accrued by moving more applicants to the electronic version of the forms described in subsection (a)(3) to improve access to the electronic version of the forms described in such subsection for applicants meeting the requirements of subsection (b) or (c) of section 1087ss of this title.