Dubious Degrees Affect Homeland Security

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Summary: As Senate Hearings on the use of questionable educational credentials in government and industry convene Tuesday and Wednesday this week, some active and retired law enforcement officers with similar concerns are taking dramatic steps, including offering a $1000.00 reward, to uncover security risks in the law enforcement training community.

Philip Messina, a nationally known police trainer and highly decorated retired New York City Police Sergeant, today announced a $1,000 reward for information related to a specific "PhD degree" from "La Salle University" of Mandeville, Louisiana, once described as "nothing more than a sophisticated diploma mill" in testimony provided by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mary Lee Warren to the House Financial Services Committee on April 20, 1999.

Messina, an elected corporate director of American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, Inc. ("ASLET"), a 501(c)(3) charity based in Frederick, Maryland, is offering to donate $1,000 to the favorite charity of the first party to provide a legally obtained, dated, "doctoral degree" that "Mr. Frank A. Hackett, PhD" claimed to possess when he interviewed for the position of Executive Director of ASLET in 1999. Hackett was subsequently chosen for the position, besting 74 other candidates.

With the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearings on “diploma mills” scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday (May 11th and 12th), Messina emphasized that Senate and House leaders have been diligently working to investigate whether the use of "diploma mill" degrees are a danger to homeland security.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) has stated that “postsecondary degrees are the keys to opening doors to the private sector job market and to federal agencies.” House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) has stated that "public trust in government is a key pillar of our democracy. There is no place for diploma mill degree holders to work in our government, especially when we are talking about homeland security. " An investigation late last year, by a large Maryland county, resulted in the removal (on his first day of work) of the county’s recently appointed Homeland Security director, after he presented a “La Salle PhD” as part of his resume submitted in support of his application for employment.

Although ASLET is incorporated as a Delaware "non-profit" corporation, federal agencies have provided government personnel and resources to teach at ASLET seminars, and federal agents have provided agency and personal funds to ASLET in the form of membership dues.

In a January 15, 2004 memo to the Education Department, Senator Collins stated that "phony degrees devalue the legitimate credentials earned by millions of individuals through hard work, persistence and achievement. Such degrees also may pose security and other risks by helping unqualified individuals secure sensitive positions, and that's a risk we can't afford to take."

Messina and other career law enforcement officers and investigators working alongside him have identified specific security risks at ASLET that they believe endanger law enforcement officers and their agencies. The receipt of the information sought, Messina believes, may quickly aid in protecting law enforcement officers and agencies from unaffordable risks.

Source and Media Contact: Elizabeth Kennedy: 631-226-8383

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Elizabeth Kennedy