Feds acknowledge mistakes in USAJobs site move

Agency says it's turned a corner, but 'not declaring victory' yet

The head of the agency that runs USAJobs.gov, the federal government employment site, apologized Thursday for the site's performance since it was taken over from Monster.com last month, but defended the decision to do so and said the site is improving.

"Obviously, we made some mistakes," said John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in a briefing with reporters.

The agency underestimated the capacity of its system, said Berry. "There was no question that we got overwhelmed," he said at the news briefing.

Users complained on OPM's official Facebook page about performance and access issues and search problems shortly after the Oct. 11 relaunch. A major source of frustration involved password resets, which was a necessary part of the transition from Monster, said officials.

The government employs about 2.6 million workers.

Among those taking note of the user frustration was U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who late last month wrote Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel to urge the administration to "seek a vendor through a competitive bidding process to manage this service." Monster.com is based in Massachusetts.

"There are many commercial firms with expertise and experience far beyond the federal government in designing and successfully managing online job websites and any number of them is better equipped to manage this service than the government," wrote Kerry.

But Berry and other agency officials today offered a vigorous defense of the decision to move the site in-house and outlined their technical fixes. The agency has added server and network capacity and hired Akamai, a Web acceleration company, to help improve performance. OPM also increased the size of its help desk to respond to trouble tickets.

Despite these efforts, USAjobs site problems persisted into this week. "We are not declaring victory today," said Berry, but "I am here to say that we have turned this around."

Thanks to the upgrades, Berry said system utilization, which had been running at near 100% immediately after the launch, is now under 20%. He also said that users have been increasingly giving the system higher marks when they are asked about performance.

The agency is using the same performance survey company as Monster, Berry said and the approval ratings are now nearing those of Monster after initially "cratering."

OPM officials said the decision to move USAJobs from a private contractor back to the government was done in part because the government was uncomfortable with what it described as "co-mingling" of federal job user records with private sector jobs. He also noted that the decision was made in collaboration with the agencies that use the site.

Agencies typically hire a contractor to manage their job applications, and these contractors post the jobs on USAJobs. What OPM wanted to build was a jobs platform on an "open architecture" with standard security practices -- something that would make it easier for private sector companies to compete on in providing HR services to agencies.

"We have opened this box wide for competition," said Kathy Dillaman, a senior policy advisor at OPM.

Monster transferred to OPM 17 million legacy user accounts, 22 million resumes and over 6,000 job announcements.

Berry said there will be "significantly fewer hires" by the government this year. "Agencies are retrenching," said Berry, "people are facing reductions in their budgets."

The website, Fierce Government IT, posted an audio recording of OPM's briefing after it ended.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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