Congressional scrutiny of Homeland official steps up

Following news reports that a senior official at the Homeland Security Department appears to have obtained her academic degrees from an unaccredited diploma mill, several members of Congress are seeking to learn how background checks and security clearances failed to flag the questionable credentials.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus' Homeland Security task force, sent a letter June 4 to HSD secretary Tom Ridge asking for a full investigation.

"What is troubling to me is that a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security in the office of the CIO would have a questionable degree in computer information systems from a university that has been denied accreditation by the U.S. Department of Education," Maloney's letter read. "If this press report is true, how could one of the highest senior officials in your Department make it through a background check while allegedly misleading the Department about her educational background?"

The official under scrutiny, Laura Callahan, senior director in the office of the CIO, lists on her official resume that she received a bachelor's degree in computer science in 1993, a master's degree in computer science in 1995, and a Ph.D. in computer information systems in 2000?all from Hamilton University. The organization, located in Evanston, Wyo., is not accredited by any body recognized by the Education Department. It sells degrees based on applicants' life and work experience but requires no coursework.

"I trust that you will have a full investigation into this matter. When this investigation is complete, I would hope that you will share your findings with Congress," Maloney wrote. "In the interim, I trust that you will give your highest attention to the verification of employee biographies and an emphasis on having candidates who have received their training from accredited institutions of higher learning."

At the same time, a spokesman for Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.), chairwoman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Reorganization, said that Davis also is concerned.

"We are leaning toward having the General Accounting Office look at this situation," said Robert White on behalf of Davis. "We want to let the investigation go where it leads. The allegation that someone would have falsified their academic credentials is worrisome."

And a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said that his office sent a letter to the Office of Personnel Management concerning the issue, and that he has requested details on the Callahan matter from HSD.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, was the first to ask HSD to investigate the matter. In a June 3 letter, Collins said, "I have written ? to DHS in order to determine whether this official did in fact breach the government's trust and, if so, what actions the department plans to take."

Callahan, her boss, CIO Stephen Cooper and his boss, assistant secretary for management Janet Hale, have declined to comment.

HSD Science and Technology Directorate spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said June 4 that the department is investigating.

"We're collecting facts. We are concerned about the issue; we are taking it seriously," Petrovich said. "We're going through the process."

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