OPM unveils diploma mill abuses and outlines policy changes

The Office of Personnel Management has told agency heads it has identified several federal employees who claimed to have undergraduate and graduate degrees but had obtained their credentials from diploma mills.

OPM director Kay Coles James said in a memorandum late yesterday that her agency plans new measures to curb diploma mill abuses, such as hiring additional staff at the Center for Federal Investigative Services. The center conducts and adjudicates background checks and advises agencies' human resources officials on credential checks.

James' memo comes two weeks before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on the diploma mill issue. The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, jointly asked the General Accounting Office to prepare a report on the issue; GAO is expected to detail its findings at the Senate hearings.

In her memo, James described the abuses without identifying the employees:

* A program manager who claimed to hold a doctorate in occupational health and safety and helped coordinate responses to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the anthrax contamination at the Capitol

* An immigration inspector who claimed a master's degree in psychology

* A computer specialist who claimed both bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science and information management-received only four months apart

* A uniformed commissioned officer who obtained a bachelor's degree to satisfy requirements for an early commission

* A police officer who claimed a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and who submitted his resume online to a diploma mill and received a degree one week later based on work experience

* A contract specialist who reported a degree received based on continuing-education classes she had taken in the procurement and contracting fields over the years.

OPM is reviewing all federal personnel forms and plans to change them to state clearly that users must distinguish credentials received from accredited schools from those granted by all other organizations, James said. She added that if OPM finds that agencies' efforts to verify credentials fall short, OPM would audit agencies' personnel security programs.

The personnel agency also plans to hold a third set of seminars for federal human resources officials on diploma mill issues May 5 and 7 in Washington.

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