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Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Office of Personnel Management is continuing its efforts to help agencies weed-out job applicants and employees who present academic degrees obtained through diploma mills, a potential problem that can rob agencies of needed expertise and cheat taxpayers who bear the cost of government services.
Following last year's discovery of a high-level federal official who claimed academic credentials essential in the performance of her job but which were purchased through a non-accredited operation, OPM is revising employment and personnel background investigation forms to make clear to applicants and current employees the differences between education or training obtained through accredited and non-accredited sources.
"These phony degrees deceive the public, pose a potential threat to national security, and can give the public the impression that federal employees have expertise and credentials when they do not," OPM Director Kay Coles James said today in a memorandum to the heads of departments and agencies.
In addition to the re-write of government forms, OPM will reprise its diploma mill seminar with two, one-day sessions on May 5 and May 7. Each session at the agency's Washington headquarters will train additional federal HR and personnel security staff and re-train all OPM staff who are engaged in evaluating job applications for other federal agencies. Last August, OPM sponsored two seminars for federal HR and personnel security managers to establish the veracity of education achievements cited by prospective employees.
James said OPM's oversight of this critical issue will expand. She has authorized additional staff for the agency's Center for Federal Investigative Services. These employees will have an adjudication role and conduct follow-up services on personnel background investigations when issues on academic credentials are raised.
James said OPM also is reviewing the entire hiring process, as well as the information asked of job applicants on employment forms to ensure that no job candidate is allowed to enter the federal work force unless their training and education is confirmed to be from an accredited educational institution.
"It is vital that the federal workforce is well-trained and qualified," said James in the memo. "Every federal employee must have the utmost confidence of the American people, no matter what job the employee fills. The way to maintain this confidence is by ensuring that the training and education of the federal work force are done by accredited institutions, ones that have a proven track record of providing quality training and education."
James added that OPM is working closely on the issue with U.S. Senator Susan Collins (Maine), who chairs the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Congressman Tom Davis (Virginia) and the Department of Education. "I appreciate the leadership Senator Collins and Congressman Davis have brought to this issue and to defending the credibility of the federal work force," James said previously.
Steve Benowitz, OPM's Associate Director for Human Resources Products and Services said: "We ask American taxpayers to use their hard-earned dollars for the salaries of our civil servants, and we will make certain they are not being misled."
The changes to employment and investigations forms being considered by OPM would make clear distinctions between academic degrees that are obtained from accredited colleges, universities and training academies, versus degrees obtained through non-accredited schools. The revised forms also would provide applicants with space to list degrees obtained through each type. While many organizations provide legitimate training and education, such as for computer programming courses, they may not be accredited.
"OPM's work will improve and facilitate agency collection of information from applicants and employees alike, and substantially help agencies and various investigative bodies determine the qualifications and suitability of individuals to perform the important work of government," said James.
OPM also is looking at changes to statue or regulation to assist in the effort to validate academic credentials.
Our mission is to Recruit, Retain and Honor a World-Class Workforce to Serve the American People. OPM 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.