The making of a political issue:

Users were having trouble accessing early Tuesday, in what was the latest problem the site has seen since the U.S. Office of Personnel Management took it back this month from

The news about the access issue comes from itself, which has been posting performance updates on its official Facebook page. officials spent this weekend responding to almost every complaint about the site that was posted on Facebook, and urged job applicants with issues to contact them directly.

The U.S. ended its work with so it could build in features that provide better integration with agencies that post jobs. This transition work began about 18 months ago.

But what may really be at stake with is whether government IT can do a better job than private sector contractors in providing some services. This is an issue that may get a more focus as the Deficit Reduction Committee completes its work.

The Wall Street Journal fired its first potshot at the project with an editorial that concludes that "the Obama team could turn over fixing USAJobs to the folks at Occupy Wall Street."

President Obama’s administration, via its former CIO Vivek Kundra, has been consistently critical of IT contractors, accusing them of running never-ending IT projects with blown out budgets.

As Kundra attacked the contracting community, the Obama administration has been undoing some of the Bush administration’s outsourcing initiatives, when was hired, and returning some jobs to government employees, with as one example.

But this insourcing doesn't sit well with some in Congress.  

In July, for instance, U.S. Rep. Nan Alison Sutter (R-NY), who is identified with the Tea Party, said the “current Administration’s insourcing policy is having a detrimental effect on our private sector,” and urged the House Appropriations Committee to do something about it.

The flip side of Sutter’s argument is the cost of contractors.

The Project on Government Oversight, a non partisan group, recently released a report that compared contracting salaries with government salaries, and found that the government, for instance, is paying contracting rates for computer engineers that are twice the cost of a salary of a government employee.

The Obama administration is nonetheless supportive of IT outsourcing, especially when it involves the cloud. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, for instance, is moving 120,000 users to a Microsoft hosted email and collaboration platform. It had been running more than two dozen separate email systems internally.

The ability of OPM to manage will come down to site metrics. Federal Computer Week did some initial comparisons, and said after two weeks the number of job applications is down 60%. Some of this is no doubt due to its transition, but for sure the number of job applications is a clear metric to track.

Comparative quarterly data will tell the story of how well OPM is managing this.

In the meantime, if -- the government's central clearing house for hiring -- keeps having performance issues, its visibility and potential for turning federal IT into a political target will increase.   

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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