Rep. Davis asks Education about aid eligibility standards

Rep. Tom Davis has asked the Education Department to detail how it determines a school's eligibility for federal financial aid and whether the government could apply those standards in some way to spot employee use of degrees from unaccredited schools.

The Virginia Republican, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, sent a letter yesterday to Education secretary Roderick Paige raising questions about how the department sets and applies its aid standards.

The request stems from an ongoing General Accounting Office review of federal employees' use of inflated academic credentials on their resumes. GAO began the review at the bidding of Davis and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

GAO expects to finish its report for the lawmakers next month (Click for Feb. 9, 2004, GCN story). Both Davis and Collins have said they will schedule hearings soon after.

'As we continue to investigate the scope of this problem across the federal government, we also need to discuss what actions can be taken to address diploma mill use in the near and long term,' said David Marin, deputy staff director for the House committee. 'It's clear that agencies lack consistent standards for identifying diploma mills for the purposes of making hiring and promotion decisions.'

Collins has suggested that Education create a master online list of accredited schools that would be accessible by students and employers. But Marin said such a list would not be a cure-all.

The standards used to measure an institution's eligibility for financial aid might be useful as the government moves 'toward crafting a nationwide personnel policy on diploma mills,' he said.

The questions Davis posed to Education include:

  • How does the department determine that an institution offers bona fide courses for degrees?

  • How does it choose the accrediting organizations on which it relies? Which does it refuse to accept as valid?

  • How can its expertise assist federal managers in identifying fraudulent degrees?

  • The congressional scrutiny of diploma mill degrees began last summer when Washington Technology and Government Computer News reported that a high-ranking IT official at the Homeland Security Department had bought her three degrees from a diploma mill in Wyoming. The DHS official, Laura Callahan, deputy CIO, has been suspended with pay. The two publications later turned up dozens of people who listed degrees from unaccredited institutions on their resumes.


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