James: No place for bogus degrees

In recent issues of Federal Computer Week and other publications, reports have described federal employees who have used phony degrees from diploma mills to obtain their jobs or promotions. In a relatively small number of cases, according to a recent General Accounting Office investigation, federal agencies have paid for these "degrees."

The Office of Personnel Management is confronting the issue head-on. Since August 2003, we have conducted seminars for about 750 human resources and program officials to help them identify fraudulent academic credentials and bogus claims. The diploma mill issue is a regular agenda item at monthly meetings of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, which I chair.

I also appreciate the strong leadership on this issue by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

Their efforts and the OPM diploma mill seminars highlight the issue as being centrally important to the entire government and one that requires the cooperative vigilance of the executive and legislative branches to maintain the integrity of the civil service.

Students complete little or no course work to receive diploma mill degrees or certificates. Often these institutions award degrees completely based on a so-called assessment of students' life experiences, translating those events into fraudulent transcripts and giving a false impression of a structured curriculum. Some organizations simply sell counterfeit degrees for cash.

OPM's position is clear: There is no place in federal employment for degrees or credentials from diploma mills. Individuals may not use bogus degrees to qualify for federal jobs or promotions; agencies may not send employees to diploma mills for degree training or other forms of education; and agencies may not reimburse employees for tuition or repay their student loans if the training came from a diploma mill.

OPM officials have reviewed applicable statutes, regulations, policy documents, public information and forms within its jurisdiction to determine how we can strengthen and clarify our message to agencies, employees and applicants about the issues relating to diploma mills. Federal human resource and personnel security staff soon will receive our updated policy guidance.

Public information, including OPM's USAJobs Web site, will be updated to ensure that our clients and customers are fully aware of our position. Information developed in the GAO investigation has been sent to the inspectors general of the agencies involved.

OPM officials have pledged to work closely with all agencies to ensure that federal employees and applicants have legitimate academic credentials and that taxpayers' hard-earned dollars are not wasted on diploma mills.

Agencies must take aggressive action to ensure that each employee and applicant is well trained and fully qualified. Agencies also must aggressively pursue any situation in which an individual claims a degree from one of those institutions.

James is director of the Office of Personnel Management.

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