Job site gets it right

If you were on vacation last month, you might have missed stories about the relaunch of the Office of Personnel Management's job-posting Web site, USAJobs, early in the month.

The move is the first step in developing Recruitment One-Stop, one of the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives.

The headline on the relaunch was little short of astounding; the first day, the number of visitors was 10 times the normal daily volume.

The spike was due mainly to OPM officials' aggressive effort to make the 300,000 previous USAJobs users who had filed online resumes aware of the new site. Users received e-mail messages advising them of improvements and urging them to update their accounts, a starting point to receive automatic notification of new jobs.

People visiting the site will already see improvements.

OPM also has set other examples for e-government with the relaunching of USAJobs.

First, OPM selected a vendor — Monster, formerly Monster.com — experienced in managing sites for job seekers. The improved site is an application with a commercial counterpart, and the government drastically needs to align its hiring practices with those used in the private sector, including mainstreaming the job search.

Second, under OPM director Kay Coles James' leadership, the new application is not just paving the path, but rather using e-government as an occasion to examine its underlying business processes.

OPM is preparing a new template for agencies to use for listings. It will eliminate the gobbledygook set of letters and numbers with government job classification arcana from its current prominent position at the top of the listing, and will encourage pithier, plain English descriptions.

As part of this effort — and a great symbol — the government-speak phrase that sends a distressful signal about a lack of excitement in government jobs, "vacancy announcement," is being eliminated. It will be replaced with the everyday "job description."

Third, the site has been relaunched using the principle of getting new capabilities out quickly, rather than waiting for perfection, and then beginning an ongoing improvement effort based on user feedback.

OPM signed the contract with Monster in January, so the first release of the relaunch came very quickly.

There have been some glitches in the site, typical for a new software release, though exploited in press releases by a vendor that runs some agency- specific job sites that compete with USAJobs. OPM has taken the wise approach of soliciting suggestions for improvements from customers using the site.

All in all, this is an impressive e-government effort with a lot to teach all of us about how to do it right.

Kelman is a professor of public management at Harvard University's Kennedy School and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. He can be reached at steve_kelman@ harvard.edu.

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