OPM says USAJobs recovered from ‘death spiral’

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said the federal jobs website USAJobs.gov is headed in the right direction after a rough debut three weeks ag...

The government employment website USAJobs.gov has recovered from a “death spiral” and is headed in the right direction, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said.

During a two-hour briefing Thursday with reporters, Berry said the agency’s IT staff has stabilized the system and now is working on technical glitches. The site is receiving nearly 700,000 visitors a day, he said. User satisfaction has gone from a low of 30 percent to 60 percent, according to a site-based survey. And no agency has complained that it could not post job ads.

“This is an example of government working,” Berry said. “When a system goes into a death spiral, it is very hard to pull it up and out. You look at every one of the trends and trajectories of this data, they are all going in the right direction.”

OPM assumed control of USAJobs from Monster Government Solutions last month and relaunched the site Oct 11. It reached full capacity several days in a row, locking some users out of the system. Job seekers able to access the site complained about search results that mixed up openings in Delaware and Germany and did not include major military bases.

OPM considered abandoning project

OPM senior policy adviser Kathy Dillaman was called out of retirement to help fix the site. (Photo: OPM.gov)
“We didn’t design [the site] as clearly as it could be designed,” said OPM senior policy adviser Kathy Dillaman, whom Berry called out of retirement to spearhead the USAJobs recovery. Dillaman had played a key role in fixing the agency’s federal investigative services division a few years ago.

Berry said OPM was “underwater” during the first week and a half of the site’s relaunch. He apologized for “underestimating both the systems and software challenges.”

He admitted he had wondered whether taking the site in house had been a mistake.

“It was not clear a week ago that I would be here,” Berry said. “I could’ve well been here saying, ‘We blew it. We are abandoning this system and we’re going to recompete it.'”

But this week, he said, “we achieved a certain degree of stability to know we could make this work, and work well.”

USAJobs.gov is an exceedingly complex site used by job applicants, job search websites and talent-acquisition systems run by both contractors, on behalf of agencies, and agencies themselves.

After security breaches at Monster, agency human capital officers voted to move the site in-house. Berry defended that decision.

“There are certain jobs that government needs to do and I would argue maintaining the basic warehouse of these resumes is a governmental function. They’re government property. They contain personal information and they ought not be commingled with other businesses or other business information,” he said. “That just can’t be the same level of security.”

Hearings scheduled

OPM rebuilt the site for less than $6 million, substituting open architecture for Monster’s proprietary code to encourage other vendors to link to the site. Berry said the fixes have cost less than $1 million.

Not everyone agrees that the government can run the site better than a contractor.

The House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 15 at which OPM is expected to testify.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrote to federal chief information officer Steve VanRoekel asking him to reopen the bidding process. Monster is headquartered in Massachusetts.


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