As unemployment rises, traffic surges on federal jobs site

USAjobs.gov Web site sees 45% increase in daily visits over past six months, feds say

In the past six months, the number of daily visits to USAjobs.gov, the federal government's jobs Web site, has increased 45%, a gain that may be linked to rising unemployment caused by the weak economy.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is in charge of the jobs site, says the number of visits has now reached 500,000 per day; six months ago, that number was 345,000. However, the government doesn't count whether each visitor is unique.

According to OPM officials, about 60,000 job searches are being conducted on the site per minute, and the number of jobs listed there has averaged between 45,000 and 55,000 over the past six months. The available jobs range from low-level occupations to upper management positions, and the OPM says that IT is one of the top job-search categories. Over the years, government CIOs have cited the need to replace a rising number of retirees in IT positions.

A search on the phrase "information technology" turned up 1,294 listings on USAjobs.gov this week. In addition, many federal IT jobs are filled by contractors from outside companies, which typically advertise the positions on commercial employment sites.

An OPM spokesman said that the agency didn't want to speculate on the reasons for the growth of traffic on USAjobs.gov.

But Ray Bjorklund, a vice president at consulting firm Federal Sources Inc. in McLean, Va., said the reason for the increase in job seekers seems clear. "It's a pretty sad economy, and there are people who are anxiously looking for jobs," Bjorklund said.

Another factor that may be contributing to the hike in traffic is the presidential election. Top supporters of rivals Barack Obama and John McCain may be interested in an appointed post for after the election. But the number of jobs that can bypass civil service hiring rules is relatively small — roughly 10,000. And all of the appointed positions are listed in what is called the Plum Book, which will be updated and published after the election.

Who will fill the so-called plum jobs? Many campaign officials, no doubt, but both candidates tipped their hands a little during last night's town-hall-style debate in Nashville. In response to a question from moderator Tom Brokaw, McCain mentioned former eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman as a possible choice for Treasury secretary, and both he and Obama spoke highly of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

A major problem with getting a civil service job is the time it takes to get hired — often many months, especially if a security clearance is required. "Unfortunately, when it gets six or nine months out, that's far too long," Bjorklund said. "Many of these qualified candidates are being hired by someone else."

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