Uncle Sam cracks down on the use of fake diplomas in government

The Internet has made it possible for phony schools to proliferate and difficult for state and federal agencies to prosecute them, so the government will fight fire with fire, using a new Web site to help users distinguish legitimate schools from diploma mills.

The Education Department and Office of Personnel Management last week unveiled a new Web site that will let visitors search among the ap-proximately 6,900 postsecondary educational institutions accredited by groups recognized by Education.

'There is no easy fix' to the problem of people who apply for government jobs using bogus academic credentials, said Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), chairman of the House Education Reform Subcommittee on Education and the Work Force.

To combat academic fraud within the ranks of the government, OPM introduced revisions to the federal qualifications manual, spelling out criteria for acceptable degrees for applicants.

OPM has been 'consistent and clear,' said Stephen Benowitz, the agency's associate director of human resources products and services. 'There is no place in federal employment for diploma mills.'

Benowitz said people who apply for work with the government using credentials from diploma mills can be banned from working for federal agencies for three years.

Although OPM does not have the resources to review the academic qualifications of all 1.8 million federal employees, Benowitz said agencies should review current employees' credentials when they apply for promotions or other positions.

'People are getting advancement ahead of other employees based on these phony degrees,' said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. 'This is a vital step in combating fraud via diploma mills.'

The issue of federal employees claiming degrees from diploma mills received attention from lawmakers in the summer of 2003, after Government Computer News and sister publication Washington Technology discovered dozens of federal IT professionals with degrees from nonaccredited schools.

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