Lawmakers add Pentagon to GAO probe of diploma mill degrees

The General Accounting Office is expanding its investigation of federal employees who hold degrees from unaccredited schools to include the Defense Department.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, today asked GAO to include Defense personnel in its inquiry.

The GAO's investigation, triggered by a July 2003 request from the two lawmakers, at first focused on the Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments, the Office of Personnel Management and the Small Business Administration. (See coverage at gcn.com/22_23/news/23177-1.html)

"We are now asking the GAO to examine diploma mill degree use and reimbursement at the Department of Defense in order to get a more complete picture of the extent of the problem," Collins and Davis wrote to the audit agency.

"By adding the Department of Defense to the investigation, we expect to give Congress and the administration a more comprehensive view of the problem in some of the most critical areas of national security," Davis said in a statement. "Weeding out employees with bogus credentials?whether or not they resulted in an actual promotion?will boost morale and rectify a terrible breach of trust."

The issue of federal employees claiming degrees from unaccredited schools came to light in June 2003, when Government Computer News and Washington Technology reported that Laura Callahan, a high-ranking IT professional at the Homeland Security Department, had acquired three degrees, including a doctorate, from a diploma mill in Wyoming. The department placed Callahan on administrative leave with pay and withdrew her security clearance shortly afterward.

Further investigation by the two publications discovered more than five dozen federal IT professionals with degrees from unaccredited schools. Research at the time showed that about 50 percent of these individuals worked for the military, whether in active-duty, reserve or civilian capacities.

Collins spokeswoman Andrea Hofelich said the decision to include the Defense Department was to be sure the investigation covered a representative sample of government employees. "The Defense Department is one of the largest federal employers," she said. As a result of the lawmakers' expansion of the investigation, GAO likely will complete it in February or March, rather than in January, as earlier planned, Hofelich said.

The PostNewsweek Tech Media investigation also revealed that Charlie Abell, a senior Pentagon political appointee, lists a master's degree from an unaccredited, unlicensed university on his official biography and his Senate confirmation statement. (www.gcn.com/22_17/news/22649-1.html) Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, holds a degree from Columbus University of New Orleans, which requires limited academic work and has never been accredited. Abell has remained in his position at the Pentagon.

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