- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

At least 28 high-level federal employees have degrees from bogus colleges or unaccredited schools, only a slice of a problem that ranges from worker quality to national security, congressional investigators say.

The employees with dubious or worthless degrees serve in eight agencies; three are supervisors with security clearances in the office overseeing nuclear-weapons safety, the General Accounting Office (GAO) found.

Some workers were driven by ego to get quick, lofty-sounding degrees; others were duped by schools that choose misleading names and marketing messages to pull in major profits. Either way, diploma mills, which require little, if any, academic work, are a federal problem, said the report by the investigative arm of Congress.

The GAO review, which covered civil-service workers and political appointees, did not name names. But some top officials unwittingly have made news recently when their college degrees came into question.

Two high-ranking Pentagon officials, Charles Abell and Patricia Walker, both list degrees from schools identified as diploma mills. Laura Callahan, deputy chief information officer at the Department of Homeland Security, resigned over a controversy about the doctorate she got from a bogus school.

The names of the 28 senior-level workers have been forwarded to the offices of the inspectors general in their agencies for review, said Robert Cramer, managing director of special investigations at the GAO. It is not clear whether listing a bogus degree is a disciplinary offense, he said, because some jobs don’t call for specific degrees and some workers might not have meant to deceive.

The government has no uniform way to check whether employees’ schools or degrees are legitimate, and many employees’ education records are incomplete. The matter is complicated because some unaccredited schools are legitimate, while others doctor up fake transcripts and sell degrees for a fee.

Both in terms of wasted tax money and workers with bogus degrees, “It’s a much larger problem than the evidence we have to date shows,” Mr. Cramer said.

An earlier GAO report revealed how easily a degree can be bought from a diploma mill; the one presented Tuesday to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee showed that the federal government is a customer.

“Clearly, this nationwide problem merits a federal response,” testified Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, who requested the study with Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican. “It is unthinkable that while the government is sending people to jail for other forms of corporate dishonesty, we should allow this practice to fester in our ranks.”

Three workers with bogus degrees in the review served in emergency operations roles at the National Nuclear Security Administration. One of those workers paid $5,000 for a master’s degree from LaSalle University, an unaccredited school unrelated to La Salle University in Pennsylvania. The worker attended no classes and told the GAO his degree was a joke.

Three unaccredited schools investigated — Pacific Western University, California Coast University and Kennedy-Western University — reported that 463 current or former students were federal employees.

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