Callahan's credentials under fire

Hamilton University

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A member of the House Democratic Caucus leadership is demanding an investigation into how Laura Callahan got her job as the deputy chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department (DHS).

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Democratic Caucus' Homeland Security Task Force, said June 4 that she is asking DHS Secretary Tom Ridge whether Callahan misrepresented her qualifications to become a high-ranking technology official at the new department.

"If Homeland can't check the resumes for one of their most senior people in charge of their computer systems, it makes you wonder," Maloney said. "I am hoping Secretary Ridge does a thorough investigation."

Callahan, a rising star in the government IT world, had been the deputy CIO at the Labor Department. In January, she was named the president of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management (AFFIRM), a joint industry/government organization. In March, DHS CIO Steve Cooper tapped her to be his deputy.

But questions have arisen over her qualifications, primarily whether she has legitimate academic credentials for the job. Reports indicate that on her resume, Callahan claims she has degrees from Hamilton University, an institution that grants academic degrees based on life and work experience.

Maloney's complaint followed a letter sent by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the department.

Collins said she wants to know if Callahan breached the government's trust and "if so, what actions the department plans to take."

"I am very concerned by allegations that a senior Department of Homeland Security official may have misrepresented her academic credentials," Collins said.

"It takes a great deal of effort and ability to earn a graduate degree, which, understandably, is valued highly by employers, including the federal government. If an employee has used a phony degree from a diploma mill to gain a job, promotion or a raise, it would be a serious matter indeed," Collins said.

Repeated calls to Callahan were not returned. Michelle Petrovich, a DHS spokeswoman, said the issue was being looked into, but Callahan remains at her job. Cooper also did not return calls about his deputy.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, today asked the Office of Personnel Management whether it has a policy concerning embellishing a resume.

The federal government should "vigilantly guard against such fraud at a time when we depend more and more on the capabilities and effectiveness of the U.S. civil service to ensure the security of our nation," Davis wrote.

The Callahan case is only the latest controversy over DHS hiring practices. Congress is looking into how dozens of airport screeners with criminal backgrounds were hired by the Transportation Security Administration.

TSA Director James Loy told Congress June 3 that the agency has fired more than 1,200 screeners over background issues. He said about half had failed to notify the security agency on their applications that they had criminal records.

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