HSD official accused of using diploma mill

Laura Callahan is senior director in the office of Steve Cooper, the Homeland Security Department's chief information officer.

Olivier Douliery

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, is pushing the Homeland Security Department to investigate allegations that a high-ranking department official received academic degrees from a diploma mill.

Laura Callahan, senior director in the office of Steve Cooper, chief information officer for Homeland Security, apparently received three academic degrees from a diploma mill, according to an investigation by Washington Technology and Government Computer News.

Callahan used a Wyoming university that has been identified as a diploma mill to obtain her bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. Callahan has declined repeated requests for comment.

Her official biography lists Hamilton University, based in a converted motel in Evanston, Wyo., as her alma mater. The state of Oregon has declared the university a diploma mill. The university grants its degrees based on life and work experience with no required attendance and scant course work.

"I am very concerned by allegations that a senior Department of Homeland Security official may have misrepresented her academic credentials," said Collins, whose committee oversees Homeland Security. "I have written [June 3] 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."

Collins has taken an active interest in the spread of so-called diploma mill schools, asking the General Accounting Office to investigate them last year.

Michelle Petrovich, spokeswoman for the Science and Technology Directorate at DHS, said June 4, "We're collecting facts. We are concerned about the issue; we are taking it seriously. We're going through the process."

According to Callahan's resume, she earned her bachelor's degree in computer science in 1993, her master's in computer science in 1995, and a doctorate in computer information systems in 2000, all from Hamilton University.

In March 2000, when Callahan was subpoenaed to appear before the House Government Reform Committee on breakdowns in the White House e-mail system, she testified under oath that she was "a graduate of Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J." She did not mention the Hamilton degrees.

The alumni office at the New Jersey college confirmed that Callahan obtained a two-year associate's degree in 1992; her major was liberal arts/general.

R.G. Marn, a self-described faculty adviser at Hamilton, said in an e-mail that the institution's privacy policies prevent it from releasing records. He has declined to comment on whether Hamilton is a degree mill.

Officials at the Homeland Security Department, including Cooper and the chief of staff for Janet Hale, undersecretary of management, also have declined to respond to repeated queries.

For the updates on this developing story, go to www.washingtontechnology.com and type in 106 in the Quickfind box.

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