Davis wants review of OPM's credential-check measures

The House Government Reform Committee plans to ask the General Accounting Office to investigate the effectiveness of the government's hiring policies in guarding against the use of degrees from unaccredited schools to gain advancement in civil service.

The move comes in the wake of revelations that a high-ranking Homeland Security Department official had academic credentials purchased from a so-called diploma mill.

Laura Callahan, senior director in Homeland Security's CIO office, for a decade claimed degrees, including a Ph.D., from Hamilton University, an unaccredited, unlicensed operation in Wyoming (see story www.gcn.com/22_15/news/22413-1.html. Callahan has been on administrative leave from DHS since June 5, according to a department spokeswoman.

'We are moving ahead with a GAO investigation, but it is in the early stages,' said reform committee spokesman David Marin.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the committee, had requested June 5 that OPM explain what safeguards it has in place to identify prospective and current government employees using degrees from non-academically recognized schools. Davis also asked the agency to recommend policies to address the problems of credential fraud and diploma mills.

OPM's response laid out the guidelines contained in the agency's Qualifications Standards Operating Manual, available online at www.opm.gov, and identified the Directory of Postsecondary Institutions (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cool/) from the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics as two resources for agencies to use in screening candidates. But the agency did not make any suggestions for policy changes.

'While we appreciate OPM's quick response, it's not clear that the guidance offered is adequate, as the allegations regarding Laura Callahan suggest,' Marin said. 'The Government Reform Committee is now in the process of examining more fully the use of bogus educational credentials in hiring promotions. Are there appropriate safeguards at the entrance gate? And are there even-more-profound problems once an employee is inside government, where he or she may use so-called diploma mills to get promotions and pay raises? Taxpayers deserve answers to these questions.'

In a follow-up conversation, Marin said that it is up to the DHS inspector general to look into the specifics of Callahan's case.

'We're interested in the bigger picture, as the Callahan allegations suggest that existing policies and procedures may not be up to snuff,' he said. 'That's why we're planning to have GAO conduct an investigation of the effectiveness of these policies at preventing the use of diploma mills to justify hiring and promotions.'

Wilson P. Dizard III, who writes for Government Computer News, contributed to this report.

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