Lawmakers ask GAO to merge diploma mill probes

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) today said they have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate the use of diploma mill degrees by federal employees.

The request merges separate audits the pair sought in requests sent last month to GAO. Collins is chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee; Davis is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

Each previously requested reviews by GAO into different aspects of the use of questionable credentials by federal employees.

The two high-ranking lawmakers asked GAO to focus on whether federal funds have been used to pay for such degrees and whether the degrees have helped employees gain promotions.

"The use of diploma mill degrees within the federal government, and the probability that federal funds have been used to defray the costs of such degrees, greatly concerns us," the pair noted in their request letter to GAO. The letter asks that GAO's Office of Special Investigations conduct the review.

Collins and Davis said their concerns stem from reports-first publicized by Government Computer News and Washington Technology-that Laura Callahan, a senior director in the Homeland Security Department's CIO office, obtained bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from Hamilton University in Wyoming.

"Published allegations and work previously conducted by GAO suggest that this may not be an isolated incident," the pair said in their letter to the audit agency.

The department placed Callahan on paid leave June 5 to investigate her credentials.

Collins last week asked the Labor Department, where Callahan was deputy CIO when she got her doctorate, for more information about the matter. Collins wants to know "whether Callahan had used her degrees to gain a promotion or bonus and whether the federal government helped pay for those degrees," according to the statement released by Collins and Davis today.

Davis, meanwhile, has asked the Homeland Security inspector general to review Callahan's credentials. The Secret Service is investigating Callahan's background because she has a security clearance.

"Public trust in government is a key pillar of our democracy," Davis said. "There is no place for diploma mill degree holders to work in our government, especially when we are talking about homeland security."

Collins said postsecondary degrees are the keys to opening doors in the private- and public-sector job markets. "It's time to figure out whether we need to change the locks so that diploma mill degree holders are no longer allowed to compete unfairly with the men and women who have worked so hard to earn legitimate degrees," she said.

Collins and Davis said they would decide whether to hold hearings on the matter once GAO has completed its review and reported back to them on its findings.

Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management has issued a memorandum to agency chiefs asking that they make sure to review prospective employees' educational credentials and to file review reports with OPM. The agency also said it will set up training sessions to help federal hiring officials spot bogus credentials.

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