Senior DHS official suspended; allegedly bought 3 college degrees

Callahan placed on leave by DHS

By Patience Wait and Wilson P. Dizard III
Post Newsweek Tech Media

The Department of Homeland Security placed a senior official on
administrative leave while officials continue to investigate reports that
she got her academic degrees from a diploma mill in Wyoming.

"Laura Callahan has been placed on administrative leave. This is our
standard practice and does not reflect that we have made any decision on
this matter or serve as any indication of what our decision may be," said
Michelle Petrovich, DHS Science & Technology Directorate spokeswoman.

The paid leave is effective immediately, she said late Thursday.

Callahan, senior director in the office of DHS CIO Steve Cooper, has claimed
on her official resume to hold bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees from
Hamilton University. But that institution, in Evanston, Wyo., is not
accredited by any organization officially recognized by the U.S. Department
of Education, and has been labeled a diploma mill by Oregon.

Petrovich said Thursday that department officials are still collecting
facts, so it is difficult to put a time frame on when the investigation will
be complete.

"We want to be sensitive to this person as well as to the allegations that
have been lodged," she said.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate
Government Reform Committee, said she was very concerned about the reports
of Callahanšs doubtful academic credentials.

"I had asked for the GAO to investigate diploma mills, and I was shocked at
the ease of getting [fake degrees]," Collins said. "One of the things we
have to do is get the Department of Education to crack down. I think in the
case of security clearances, the investigations for presidential nominees
are much more in depth and would reveal [false credentials]. The problem is
those investigations that are done for people in lower-level but still
sensitive positions."

Collins spoke after a nomination hearing for department officials at the
Governmental Affairs Committee.

A day earlier, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government
Reform Committee, asked the Office of Personnel Management to explain or
create provisions the agency has to guard against federal employees
embellishing their resumes with degrees from diploma mills. "The ease with
which these fake credentials can be obtained, and the evident lengths to
which the deceit can go even to the point of manufacturing counterfeit
transcripts is very troubling," he said in the June 4 letter to OPM director
Kay Coles James.

Callahan and Cooper have not responded to requests for comment. 

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