OPM wants to blow the whistle on diploma mills

The Office of Personnel Management is toughening background checks of potential government employees and their educations following a scandal involving a high-level federal employee and phony degrees from diploma mills.

OPM Director Kay Coles James said agency officials are rewriting personnel forms to make sure applicants clearly state what kind of diplomas and other academic training they have received from accredited or nonaccredited schools. The goal

is to help hiring managers spot phony degrees from diploma mills, which award degrees for a fee with little or no academic work.

The agency's move comes when the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee is investigating the ease of getting fake credentials. The panel has scheduled hearings May 11 and 12 to look into the issue and to receive a General Accounting Office report on how extensively federal employees use diploma mills.

GAO officials intend to release the report during the hearing, according to Andrea Hofelich, the committee's communications director. Committee chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins(R-Maine) also asked GAO to determine how much federal education money was being directed to fake credentials.

Collins requested a GAO investigation after discovering how easy it is to get a fake credential. Working with GAO, Hofelich said the senator obtained a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in medical technology and phony transcripts all listing the name "Susan Collins."

"It's clear we need some form of national standard; it's just not yet clear what that standard would look like," said David Marin, spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee, which is also working on the problem.

James asked officials at OPM's Center for Federal Investigative Services to hire more staff to conduct background checks for all federal government agencies. She also wants them to hold training sessions this month that will teach federal human resources personnel to identify fake credentials on job applications.

Phony diplomas became an issue

last year when it was disclosed that Laura Callahan, former deputy chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department, had three degrees from online diploma mills. She lost her job as a result.

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Faking it

Office of Personnel Management officials already have uncovered a series of phony academic credentials that have been

used by a variety of employees in critical positions.

Among them:

A program manager claimed to have a doctorate in occupational health and safety and helped coordinate an agency's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare at the Capitol.

An immigration inspector claimed he had a master's degree in psychology, which turned out to be a degree from a diploma mill.

A police officer said he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice after submitting

his résumé online to the school and received his degree one week later based on work

experience.

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