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updated 5/13/2004 1:00:39 PM ET 2004-05-13T17:00:39
COMMENTARY

It was a story plastered all over the nightly news programs last night— the phony degree controversy separating what really matters from a little bit of school snobbery. According to congressional investigators, at least 28 high-level government employees have degrees from bogus colleges or unaccredited schools.

It sounds shocking: Three are supervisors with security clearance and the office that oversees nuclear weapons safety. Two are high-ranking Pentagon officials, including a deputy undersecretary of defense.

And while there’s some serious concerns here, let’s make sure investigators keep their eye on the ball and don’t overstate the dangers. Some of these “schools” are what are called diploma mills, or what I call Captain Crunch schools. You send in money. They send you a degree. No work required. Those should be shut down, and any federal employee who cited a degree from the school that required no work should be punished. Not necessarily because he or she can’t do the job but because that’s essentially fraud.

Second, an even bigger problem, taxpayers are apparently footing the bill. If a single taxpayer dollar went toward a phony degree, there should be hell to pay. Federal workers are only suppose to get government tuition for training at accredited schools. Those who have violated the rules should be punished. Again, not because they’re necessarily unqualified, but because they may have cheated the system.

But I would also hope that people who didn’t use taxpayer dollars, who did course work at some less than stellar schools, don’t necessarily find themselves out of a job because their schools turn out to be of questionable caliber. There are a lot of so-called accredited schools that provide underwhelming educations. Some members of Congress are characterizing this as a possible threat to national security. And if someone is unqualified for a sensitive job that is a potential threat, then that must be remedied.

But when it comes to national security, I’m far more concerned about what these employers are doing to monitor our borders and ports than I am about what graduate school they attended. I’d rather know they took a mail-in course in Arabic than a full time course in Aramaic. I spent seven years at a college and graduate school with fancy names. I know how much degrees from great schools can matter, but some of the smartest people I ever met went to schools you probably never heard of. Fraud should be punished. But absent fraud, the questions should stay focused on whether these people can effectively do their jobs.

Dan Abrams is the host of 'The Abrams Report.' The show airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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