THE public has been had again by government. This time at least 28 senior-level federal workers, three with highly sensitive security clearances, have degrees from bogus colleges that we all may have paid for.
Congressional investigators believe the problem is even larger, but say they have no way to check on whether the colleges at which employees said they earned degrees were diploma mills. That's not credible. Federal job applications are detailed. Time and effort should tell the story. Systematic checking of resumes of future hires should be standard.
Phony colleges give credit for "life experience" instead of book learning, or sell degrees outright. Their names resemble those of credible colleges. Some are legitimate, but unaccredited, meaning the government won't pay for their courses.
Eight federal agencies employ people with dubious degrees. That three of them are supervisors with security clearances who oversee nuclear weapons safety raises the question of professionalism not only about resume-checking and underwriting of college expenses but the security investigations they underwent.
While the General Accounting Office probe did not reveal names of the 28, some were identified when their credentials were questioned. Charles Abell and Patricia Walker, high-ranking officials in the Pentagon, have diploma-mill degrees. A public relations person in the Department of Homeland Security quit when her degree came under scrutiny.
Undercover GAO agents found that three diploma mills wouldn't allow them to enroll in individual courses, for which the government might pay tuition, but offered to change billing practices so the tuition would look like per-course fees.
No one now seems to know how much, if anything, was spent on nonexistent courses at diploma mills. The GAO points to incomplete records and verifications.
The names of the 28 have been forwarded to inspectors general in their respective agencies for determinations.
Rep. Tom Davis (R., Va.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), who requested the GAO study, are correctly calling for a federal response to the bogus degree problem.
It should come swiftly. People with phony degrees shortchange co-workers with legitimate degrees in job and promotion competitions, and they victimize employers taken in by their questionable credentials.