GAO to investigate fed policies on diploma mills

The House Government Reform Committee wants the General Accounting Office to investigate whether the government is able to prevent civil servants from using inflated credentials from unaccredited schools to advance their careers.

The request for an investigation comes in the wake of reports, first published by Post Newsweek Tech Media, that Laura Callahan, deputy chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department, obtained her degrees, including a doctorate from Hamilton University, an unaccredited, unlicensed operation in Wyoming. Callahan has been on administrative leave since June 5.

"We are moving ahead with a GAO investigation, but it is in the early stages," said committee spokesman David Marin.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the committee, requested June 5 that the Office of Personnel Management explain what safeguards are in place to stop government employees from using degrees from nonacademically recognized schools. Davis also asked the agency to recommend policies to address credential fraud and diploma mills.

OPM's response restated guidelines in the agency's Qualifications Standards Operating Manual, available online at www.opm.gov, and identified the Directory of Postsecondary Institutions (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cool/) from the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, as two resources for agencies to use in screening candidates. But the agency did not make any suggestions for policy changes.

"While we appreciate OPM's quick response, it's not clear that the guidance offered is adequate, as the allegations regarding Laura Callahan suggest," Marin said. "The Government Reform Committee is now in the process of examining more fully the use of bogus educational credentials in hiring promotions. Are there appropriate safeguards at the entrance gate? And are there even more profound problems once an employee is inside government, where he or she may use so-called diploma mills to get promotions and pay raises? Taxpayers deserve answers to these questions."

Despite the committee's investigation, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general must look into the specific allegations against Callahan, Marin said.

"We're interested in the bigger picture, as the Callahan allegations suggest that existing policies and procedures may not be up to snuff," he said. "That's why we're planning to have GAO conduct an investigation of the effectiveness of these policies at preventing the use of diploma mills to justify hiring and promotions."

Wilson P. Dizard III, who writes for Government Computer News, contributed to this report.

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