OPM [Office of Personnel Management] Associate Director Tells Senate Committee that Diploma Mill Degrees Have No Place in Federal Government Decisions on Hiring, Promoting ||OPM Director Kay Coles James Issues Strong Message on Bogus Degrees

May 14, 2004

Washington, D.C. — A senior official at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management yesterday told a Senate panel that degrees from non-accredited schools must never be used to base hiring or promotion decisions on in the federal government, and that the agency is using seminars and other substantive efforts to train federal managers and HR officials on detecting bogus college degrees.

“Course work or degrees from (non-accredited) schools is never acceptable for any purposes in the federal government,” said Steve Benowitz, Associate Director for Human Resources Products and Services.

While not widespread, the use of bogus degrees by federal job applicants could jeopardize the American public’s confidence in the civil service, especially in the sensitive national security arena.

Benowitz expressed OPM Director Kay Coles James’ concern over the potential harm that can be done to the federal civil service through the use of bogus degrees issued by diploma mills and used by job applicants and promotion-seeking employees.

“Director James has said that these degrees deceive the public, pose a potential threat to national security, constitute a fraud if federal funds are used to pay for them, and can give the public the impression that federal employees have expertise and credentials when they do not,” said Benowitz. “It is vital that members of the federal work force be well-trained and qualified and (do not) misrepresent the experience and education they bring to their positions.”

Benowitz testified before Senator Susan M. Collins, Chairman of the senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. Collins supports the efforts of OPM and ither agencies with jurisdiction on the matter out of her concern over the “proliferation of schools advertising degrees either for no work whatsoever or for only a nominal token effort.”

In June 2003, James wrote to agency heads reminding them that a provision in the Homeland Security Act prohibits agencies from reimbursing employees for course work that is not provided by an accredited school. At the time, OPM also issued interim regulations on this provision of the act.

Regarding efforts to clamp down on the use of bogus degrees in government, Benowitz cited James’ authorization to increase resources within OPM’s investigations unit which uncovers bogus degrees during background checks on employees and applicants. He also said OPM has conducted four training seminars since August 2003 for approximately 750 hiring officials and program managers on techniques and tools they can use to identify fraudulent academic degrees, grade transcripts and claims of job applicants and employees.

The Senate committee commended OPM for its plans to revise employment and investigation forms that would distinguish for individuals what constitutes education that is “acceptable for qualifying” for federal employment, student loan repayment and tuition reimbursement. The revised forms also would leave space for individuals to list degrees or certificates earned through non-accredited or non-traditional training.

Committee member Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) said fake degrees should not reward someone “with a job over someone who has earned their degree,” and he acknowledged OPM’s “stepped-up efforts” to combat diploma mills.

Today’s hearing capped two-days of testimony, which also included the General Accounting Office and the administrator of Oregon’s Office of Degree Authorization. Representative Tom Davis (VA) also testified. Davis is chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform.

The committee also heard from a convicted, former employee of a large diploma mill operation who described the slick advertisements and deceptions the company used to attract clients and issue “creative billings” to facilitate agency reimbursements.

Benowitz also pointed out to the committee a misleading portion in the GAO report on diploma mills which makes it appear that a former senior level OPM employee was found to have a diploma mill degree. Benowitz said no senior level employees have been found to have a bogus degree and that the employee referred to in GAO’s report was a mid-level worker who is no longer with the agency.

OPM oversees the federal work force and provides the American public with up-to-date employment information. OPM also supports U.S. agencies with personnel services and policy leadership including staffing tools, guidance on labor-management relations and programs to improve work force performance.
OPM Director Kay Coles James Issues Strong Message on Bogus Degrees
James Praises Senator Collins and Representative Davis for Leadership
Memorandum identifies acceptable categories of higher education

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kay Coles James today issued a memorandum (attached) to heads of agencies and departments with a strong message on the use of diploma mills: “There is no place in federal employment for degrees or credentials from diploma mills.”

“Our position is clear,” stated James in the memorandum. “Diploma mills may not be used to qualify for federal jobs or salaries; you may not send employees to diploma mills for degree training or for any other form of education; you may not reimburse employees for tuition associated with these schools; and you may not use your authority to repay student loans if the degree is from a diploma mill.”

James also took the opportunity to praise Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) for their leadership on the issue. In her memorandum, James said, “I appreciate the strong leadership and assistance both Senator Collins and Representative Davis have provided on this issue. Their efforts highlight the fact that this issue is of central importance to the entire government, and one that requires the cooperative vigilance of both the executive and legislative branches to maintain the integrity of the civil service. There is no place in federal employment for degrees or credentials from diploma mills.”

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and House Government Reform committees recently finished two days of hearings on bogus degrees.

OPM has completed a review of the applicable statutes, regulations, policy documents, public information and forms within its jurisdiction to determine how the agency can strengthen and clarify how agencies, employees, and applicants can become better informed of the issues relating to diploma mills.

The review included OPM policies related to paying for academic degrees directly or through tuition reimbursement, repayment of student loans, employee training, higher education required to meet position qualification requirements, and the use of advanced education in the applicant ranking process. OPM further reviewed all forms and instructions where the issue might surface. Additionally, OPM reviewed the background investigations process as it relates to verification of education claims and the standards for adjudicating investigations when bogus degrees have been identified.

“President George W. Bush expects a federal work force that is efficient and effective, and above all, honest,” James stated. “We will not tolerate the use of bogus degrees for dishonest claims of education or experience for federal promotion or employment.”

The memorandum also outlined four distinct categories of acceptable higher education: Conventional/Accredited; Non-Accredited/Pending Accreditation; Non-Accredited/Other; and Non-Qualifying, with thorough descriptions for each. By specifying acceptable educational areas, OPM hopes to eliminate any confusion regarding student loan repayment, tuition reimbursement, and academic training for position qualification requirements.

“Clarifying what are and are not acceptable sources of educational requirements is one of many steps OPM is taking to address the growing concern of diploma mill use,” James stated. “The integrity of the federal work force must be maintained at all times and we will work tirelessly to do that.”

OPM last year initiated two half-day training seminars for agency human resources managers and security personnel. Late last week, OPM wrapped-up its latest seminars on the use of bogus degrees. Three-hundred forty human resources directors and specialists from throughout the government attended the sessions and with sufficient interest, OPM will conduct additional training seminars. Over the past year, more than 750 agency officials have been trained. Heads of agencies and departments are asked to have their Chief Human Capital Officers contact OPM’s Division for Human Capital Leadership and Merit System Accountability for more information.

OPM oversees the federal work force and provides the American public with up-to-date employment information. OPM also supports U.S. agencies with personnel services and policy leadership including staffing tools, guidance on labor-management relations and programs to improve work force performance.
United States Office of Personnel Management
Theodore Roosevelt Building
1900 E Street, NW, Room 5347
Washington, DC 20415-1400
Phone: (202) 606-2402
FAX: (202) 606-2264