Senator asks federal CIO to resolve USAJobs crisis

 As the technical problems plaguing the new USAJobs website continue into a third week, Sen. John Kerry ( D-Mass.), called on Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel to intervene and to consider putting the website operation out for competitive bid.

The federal job search Web portal, which is the third version of the site, was launched on Oct. 11 after the Office of Personnel Management spent 18 months developing it in-house. Since the debut, the agency has been addressing thousands of user complaints about operation of the site.

In a letter on Oct. 26, Kerry asked VanRoekel to “intervene, investigate and resolve the problems with USAJOBS as soon as possible.”

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“Since OPM took over and re-launched the USAJOBS site two weeks ago, agencies and job seekers have encountered great difficulties, facing repeated outages and numerous glitches,” Kerry wrote in the letter.

“Disgruntled constituents have used Facebook and the media to express their frustration. These breakdowns again raise real questions about the decision to take this operation in-house, and in light of the poor transition and launch, I am renewing the recommendation for the Administration to seek a vendor through a competitive bidding process to manage this service,” added Kerry, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

From 2004 to September 2011, OPM contracted with, based in Maynard, Mass. to operate the USAJobs website. Kerry said he previously had recommended in a letter to OPM Director John Berry in August 2010 against insourcing USAJobs and advised maintaining it as a competitively-bid contract.

Kerry, in his letter to VanRoekel, acknowledged that is headquartered in his state, but he said his concerns were not merely parochial.

“While Massachusetts remains very proud of, this is a bigger issue than a single constituent concern,” Kerry wrote. “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.”

Kerry also questioned OPM’s decision to insource USAJobs and to raise fees paid by federal agencies to OPM for its operation by 19 percent this year. OPM officials previously have said that moving the system inhouse would save the federal government $5 million over five years.

“While OPM has assured me that its decision to a government owned and operated system would save us money, at a time when Congress and the Administration are focused on decreasing spending, OPM is imposing a 19 percent increase in fees charged to federal agencies using the site. It seems to me that if it was going to cost less to operate the service, then the fees to agencies should not be going up,” Kerry wrote.

Angela Bailey, associate administrator of OPM, previously had offered additional details about the cost of USAJobs, saying the fiscal 2011 cost for development of the 3.0 version was about $6 million, about the same as what was paid to

“The cost savings to the agencies by bringing the site in-house is a projected $5 million cost savings over a five year period,” Bailey said in a statement. Furthermore, asked about the costs of additional servers and personnel time to fix problems associated with the launch, Bailey said federal agencies “will not bear the cost of additional servers or other costs associated with the launch.”

Options for resolving the immediate problems with USAJobs might include asking federal agencies to post jobs on their own websites, taking USAJobs offline or utilizing private job search boards during an interim period, industry sources have suggested. OPM has said that reverting to the 2.0 version on the servers is not possible because too much computer code has been rewritten. 

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Nov 3, 2011

I think Don's post on October 31 hits the nail on the head. I read in Politico a comment about USAJOBS paying Booze Allen $310,000 for a security person. Not sure how much a contracted security person typically makes as a federal employee or private sector employee but I would have thought it would be closer to $100,000 but I guess the contractor mark up is 300% or so?

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 EricE

"Ok so the previous poster seems to work for OPM IT...great job btw!" No I'm not, I'm just someone who works with large scale projects like this and find the armchair Internet message board experts annoying. Worse, left unchallenged, someone reading your comments might think you actually have a point. Hence, the only reason I replied to your "comment" "second, it's not a matter of scrapping 18 months of work... a proper deployment includes contingencies plans and a roll back plan. That's called Change and Release Planning/Management. " Why would you roll back if you think you can get the problem fixed quicker than a roll-back? I don't know what kind of parallel universe you come from, but rolling back is not trivial - I don't care how much planning or how smart you think you are. There are some things that are constants, and when working with large systems like this the last thing anyone should be doing is making knee-jerk reactions. "Yet another indicator why feds don't know what they are doing. At the first sign of massive failure, like hour 1, initiate an immediately rollback, fix the problem and redeploy. " Pretty bold statement for someone who has NO insight into the exact issues or steps that OPM is taking to resolve them. Again, it's trivial to comment and pretend your brilliant in an anonymous comment on a news story.... " Yet another example of the arrogance of Fed IT people. " Oh, so because it's "Fed IT People" they are automatically wrong? You blamed me for being an OPM employee, sounds like you are a contractor with sour grapes that it got pulled back in house :p "If this was going on with a private company it would cost "real" money and 1 day affected is too many... I guess 3 weeks for gov't isn't real money yet..." Stuff happens - just as RIM, Amazon, Google, or any other private company that's had large scale outages. Stop trying to make this an "arrogant Fed IT" vs. the world thing - how droll. What we do know is for the most part the system is working - Millions of applications are posted. I myself logged in and created a profile with no issues. Is it perfect? Nope. Will OPM improve it? Undoubtedly - especially with the scrutiny they are now under. But to still be banging this drum is a little over the top at this point.

Mon, Oct 31, 2011

--Bailey said federal agencies “will not bear the cost of additional servers or other costs associated with the launch.”-- So where will this "magic" money come from. Bailey should possibly advise the Social Security Administration on their cost problems...

Mon, Oct 31, 2011 Don

In truth, you can bet that they whole fiasco, development, contingency planning, testing (or lack of it) was contracted out. The problem with federal IT systems now is that when capable federal project managers press contractors for full performance at agreed upon terms, contractors balk. As a result, the project manager is replaced with a nice MBA schill who can be brushed off if they have any legit questions and who will "go to bat" when the contractor claims it needs more budget and argues that requirements are "enhancements". We need to get back to basics...but this new breed of management ... part politician, part consumer, part HR deadhead... they do not have the stomach to create anything of value. In the face of this, greedy contractors munch down taxpayer dollars like pacman.

Sun, Oct 30, 2011 Vel

Eric E. Rix! I haven't heard from you or seen you in months. How are you? You still working for your sister Linda? How is that Avue gig going?

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