Deputy CIO at Homeland Security placed on leave

Laura Callahan, the deputy CIO of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was placed on paid administrative leave last week after questions surfaced about her academic qualifications, a DHS spokeswoman confirmed.

The move came after members of Congress contacted department officials demanding answers to questions about her academic background, as well as about the department’s policy on background checks.

On her resume, Callahan, who was appointed to the position on April 1, said she received her academic degrees, including a doctorate in computer information systems, from Hamilton University in Evanston, Wyo.

However, the congressmen, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), contend that according to published reports, Hamilton isn’t licensed by that state, nor is the school accredited by the U.S. Department of Education. The congressmen said Hamilton is a “diploma mill.”

“What is troubling to me is that a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security in the office of the CIO would have a questionable degree in computer information systems,” Maloney said in a letter dated June 4 to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. “I would hope that checking credentials on a resume is a standard procedure in any background check.”

DHS spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said the department is investigating the allegations. She declined to comment on the department’s procedures concerning background checks.

In 2001, Callahan was deputy CIO at the U.S. Department of Labor, and in 2002, she also became that department’s IT center director.

A spokesman for the Labor Department referred Computerworld to the Office of Personnel Management. The Labor Department couldn’t be reached for comment at deadline.

This isn’t the first time Callahan has been embroiled in controversy.

In March 2000, she was one of two White House officials accused of threatening Northrop Grumman Corp. workers with jail unless they kept quiet about the disappearance of thousands of White House e-mails, according to press reports at the time. Callahan was the White House webmaster under the Clinton administration, and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman ran the White House computer system at the time.

The e-mails in question had been subpoenaed during congressional and judicial criminal inquiries that included investigations into campaign finance abuse during the 1996 presidential campaign. Callahan testified under oath at a congressional hearing that she never threatened anyone over the e-mails. The outcome of the investigation couldn’t be determined.

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