DHS puts Callahan on leave

The Homeland Security Department has placed a senior official on administrative leave while officials continue to investigate reports that she got her academic degrees from a diploma mill in Wyoming.

'Laura Callahan has been placed on administrative leave. This is our standard practice and does not reflect that we have made any decision on this matter or serve as any indication of what our decision may be,' said Michelle Petrovich, DHS Science & Technology Directorate spokeswoman.

The paid leave is effective immediately, she said late Thursday.

Callahan, senior director in the office of DHS CIO Steve Cooper, has claimed on her official resume to hold bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees from Hamilton University. But that institution, in Evanston, Wyo., is not accredited by any organization officially recognized by the Education Department, and has been labeled a diploma mill by Oregon.

Petrovich said Thursday that department officials are still collecting facts, so it is difficult to put a time frame on when the investigation will be complete.

'We want to be sensitive to this person as well as to the allegations that have been lodged,' she said.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Government Reform Committee, said she was very concerned about the reports of Callahan's doubtful academic credentials.

'I had asked for the GAO to investigate diploma mills, and I was shocked at the ease of getting [fake degrees],' Collins said. 'One of the things we have to do is get the Department of Education to crack down. I think in the case of security clearances, the investigations for presidential nominees are much more in depth and would reveal [false credentials]. The problem is those investigations that are done for people in lower-level but still sensitive positions.'

Collins spoke after a nomination hearing for department officials at the Governmental Affairs Committee.

A day earlier, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, asked the Office of Personnel Management to explain or create provisions the agency has to guard against federal employees embellishing their resumes with degrees from diploma mills.

'The ease with which these fake credentials can be obtained, and the evident lengths to which the deceit can go'even to the point of manufacturing counterfeit transcripts'is very troubling,' he said in the June 4 letter to OPM director Kay Coles James.

Callahan and Cooper have not responded to requests for comment.

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