GAO hunts for bogus degrees

Reports that Laura Callahan acquired three degrees from an unaccredited institution led to the GAO investigation.

Henrik G. de Gyor

The General Accounting Office is auditing the academic credentials of senior-level government officials at several agencies as part of an investigation to examine the use of diploma mills by federal employees.

The inquiry, requested by members of Congress, was triggered by reports published in Government Computer News and Washington Technology that Laura Callahan, once deputy chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department, had acquired all three of her degrees, including a doctorate, from an unaccredited organization in Wyoming that required little or no course work.

The GAO audit, targeting officials at the GS-15 level and above, is focusing on agencies with health- and safety-related functions, according to officials familiar with the investigation. Among the agencies being examined are the Office of Personnel Management, elements of Homeland Security, the Transportation Department and parts of the departments of Energy and Health and Human Services, officials said.

In July, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, asked OPM to close a "legal loophole" that appears to allow federal employees to use government funds to pay for academic work from unaccredited schools. Collins and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, asked GAO to conduct the investigation.

Callahan was placed on administrative leave in early June while Homeland Security officials conducted an investigation, which is ongoing. Meanwhile, several sources have confirmed that her security clearance has been revoked. Homeland Security officials didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

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