OPM slows access to USAJobs to lighten load
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Oct 18, 2011
The worst of the problems that have plagued the revamped USAJobs federal job search website may be easing a bit, as government authorities have stepped up their response in recent hours.
But many users continue to report problems with USAJobs.gov 3.0 since its launch last week, and job search experts and legal advisers suggest that job applicants may wish to try out alternative measures while the difficulties are addressed.
Some of the latest problems users experienced were deliberate measures that the Office of Personnel Management took to lighten the demand on the system. After the user complaints began to flood the USAJobs Facebook page and elsewhere, OPM installed a gatekeeper application to reduce traffic congestion, said Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer at OPM.
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The application blocks 6 percent of users from accessing the site on the first try, said Bailey, who described the application in a Facebook posting on Oct. 18. It accounts for the users who report getting messages saying the site is too busy and urging them to try again later.
“We put a ‘governor’ on the site to help slow down the traffic coming in the front door,” Bailey wrote. “You can think of it like the lines installed at your favorite amusement park...they don't let everyone rush the front door of their favorite ride, they slow you down by having you go through turnstiles, etc. This is what we are doing for about 6 percent of you.”
She outlined additional steps, including the installation of additional search servers and additional capacity for the system, to reduce traffic congestion. The new servers were put in last week, are being tested and will be fully functional in several days, she added.
Bailey also suggested that users hit the “Refresh” button on their browser, or the F5 function key, to improve performance of the website.
Leigh Moore, a federal job search consultant in Atlanta, Georgia, said most of her job-hunting clients have been upset by their inability to use the redesigned USAJobs website since it was introduced on Oct. 11.
“People say they cannot access the system,” Moore said in an interview on Oct. 18. “There have been timeouts, errors and confusion. It has been very frustrating for most people knowing they cannot trust the technology.” She has been advising job hunters to try searching for jobs on federal agency websites as an alternative to USAJobs.gov in the interim.
Errors and downtime at the USAJobs website are “definitely a big problem, especially in this economy,” added John Mahoney, partner in the Tully, Rinckey law firm in Washington. He is advising several options to job seekers to deal with the situation as well.
Meanwhile, federal job search experts have been suggesting alternatives to search for jobs, such as using federal agency websites directly, major search engines Google or Yahoo, job search aggregation sites such as AvueCentral.com or Indeed.com, and social media networks that mention job openings such as LinkedIn.
“Do not assume that every federal job is listed on USAJobs.gov,” suggested Moore. “If you want to find a job at the Centers for Disease Control, you could go to the CDC website directly.”
Linda Rix, co-chief executive of Avue Technologies Inc., which handles job listings for some federal agencies, said many federal jobs can be searched directly from Avue’s site or from Google, MSN, AOL or Yahoo.
“Given the options, there is no reason to be completely despondent,” Rix said. “For most of the jobs that are posted on agency websites, Google will pick them up.”
As for legal options, federal job applicants may want to consider some possibilities if they believe they were negatively affected by the USAJobs.gov technical problems, Mahoney said.
First, he suggested that applicants contact agencies directly and apply by mail with paper applications if necessary. He also suggested trying alternative websites and contacting congressional representatives to bring attention to the issue.
Applicants would not be advised to sue the federal government for mistakes made in handling a job application, unless there is indication that the problem was intentional or discriminatory, Mahoney added.
On the other hand, many federal agencies have a grievance process that can be utilized by job applicants who believe they were negatively affected by technical glitches in the application process, Mahoney suggested.
Acknowledging that such grievances can be “a touchy issue” and may require professional legal assistance, Mahoney said that some frustrated job applicants might benefit by writing directly to an agency official describing the problem and requesting remedial action.
“A letter of complaint is technically a grievance,” he said.
OPM debuted the new USAJobs on Oct. 11, following 18 months of development of the system. Previously, the job listing and search system was housed on Monster.com’s computers under a contract, but now it is hosted by OPM’s own servers.
The launch has been plagued from the first moments of operation with thousands of user reports of problems, including inaccessibility of the website, failed or inconsistent searches, disappearing data and inexplicable timeouts and error messages. A third-party tester reported failure rates of 55 percent to 73 percent during a two-day period in the initial week of operation.
OPM officials blamed the problems on record high traffic running three to five times higher than peak days. On Oct. 14, an OPM official announced that the site was operating properly and third-party testing on Oct. 15 showed failure rates of between two percent and 25 percent.
However, user complaints on the USAJobs.gov Facebook page began spiking again two days later, and an OPM official confirmed that there were still difficulties.
“As with any project of this size, there are still technical issues that we are working to resolve,” the OPM spokeswoman said in a statement on Oct. 17. “While most applicants are currently able to find and apply for jobs, full service has not yet been restored.”
Top priorities to be addressed included increasing the number of applicants who can use the website at one time, reducing errors in search results, and reducing negative impacts from high traffic, the statement said.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.