OPM to train feds to spot fake credentials

The Office of Personnel Management is planning to train federal employees to spot fake academic credentials — a move that follows the controversy surrounding the Homeland Security Department's deputy chief information officer, Laura Callahan.

Although the office declined to say the move was connected to that case, a senior OPM official, who declined to be identified, said it was intended to make sure there are "suitable people working in government jobs" who meet employment criteria. The action comes after the disclosure that Callahan, who was deputy CIO at the Labor Department before joining DHS, received her higher-education credentials from a so-called diploma mill. Callahan is on paid administrative leave while officials investigate her background. OPM Director Kay Coles James sent a memo to federal agencies July 10 announcing a series of training sessions that will offer instructions for spotting padded resumes and phony academic credentials. Derogatory issues such as serious criminal acts or patterns of employment problems can often be discovered during an OPM investigation, James said in the memo. "As the federal personnel security community continues to strive to protect homeland security, it becomes increasingly important that serious suitability issues are dealt with promptly and effectively," she added. Paul Light, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who has studied and written about federal personnel practices, described OPM's move as too little, too late. "If you have to train human resource officers to detect diploma mills at this point, you've got a serious problem," Light said. "It should be part of a high-performing HR function already in place." The OPM official said employees involved in conducting background checks would be trained to distinguish legitimate e-learning institutions from bogus degree-granting ones. Meanwhile, 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, sent a joint letter to the General Accounting Office seeking an investigation into the practice. They asked GAO's Office of Special Investigations to "investigate the fraudulent use of educational credentials to obtain positions and promotions — especially senior positions of trust — within the federal government, as well as whether federal government funds are being used to pay, in whole or in part, for diploma mill degrees."

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