OPM to revamp job site

In a marrying of innovative technology with cutting-edge contracting practices, the Office of Personnel Management plans to transform its USAJobs Web site into a fully interactive online recruitment site.

OPM will revamp USAJobs (www.usajobs.opm.gov) to provide "clean, simple, direct job search routines that will help [those seeking jobs in the federal government] find jobs that match both their interest and skills," an OPM official who requested anonymity said March 21.

OPM plans to overhaul USAJobs through a share-in-savings contract, in which the contractor puts up all or most of the funds for a new system and is then "paid back" by the agency according to an agreed-on percentage of the savings the agency realizes through the use of the new technology.

"We're looking for a cost-savings agreement because we believe there's real value in the federal jobs database," the official said.

The Bush administration called on agencies to expand the use of share-in-savings in its fiscal 2002 budget. The Education Department, which has two share-in-savings contracts, is the only federal agency to use the innovative contract form so far.

OPM issued a request for information on March 15, announcing that it sought to transform USAJobs into the "Recruitment One Stop," one of the administration's 24 e-government initiatives.

The RFI "was issued prematurely due to some misunderstandings," however, and has been recalled, according to the OPM official. "It's still going through some editing and comments from interested stakeholders. We plan to re-issue it shortly, but I don't know when."

OPM's action is the latest in a rash of recent efforts in both government and the private sector to move the often frustrating process of applying for a federal job — particularly in information technology — online.

On March 13, Avue Technologies Inc. unveiled Avue Central (www.avue central.com), a site that not only gives the public access to many federal job listings, but also allows applicants to electronically track their progress through the hiring process.

The CIO Council has proposed holding a weeklong, nationwide "virtual" information technology job fair in mid-April. Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration awarded NCS Pearson Inc. a $103.4 million contract to provide a Web-based system to aid in the hiring of more than 30,000 federal security workers.

In a recent interview, OPM Director Kay Coles James acknowledged that her agency is "constantly looking for ways to improve" USAJobs, which carries postings of employment vacancies. Applicants can submit resumes online for some postings.

"I think we can improve our search engines [on USAJobs]. I think we can improve some of the language some of the departments use to describe the jobs," James said. "I think the information could be presented in a more user-friendly way. I think there's a lot we can do to improve [the site], and we are constantly doing just that."

Other federal officials, however, have a less sanguine view of the government's hiring process, electronic or otherwise.

Norman Lorentz, the new chief technology officer at the Office of Management and Budget, said at a March 20 panel discussion that he is rooting for Recruitment One Stop.

"Has anyone tried to get a job in government lately? The system is broken," said Lorentz, who was chief tech.nology officer for Dice Inc., an online recruiting firm, before he joined OMB Jan. 2.

For at least one critic of the government hiring process, the problem hits close to home.

"My brother was with a dot-com that became a 'dot-bomb.' He has been trying for months to get something in public service," Comptroller General David Walker said at a hearing March 18 before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services. "His experience has been a case study in what's wrong with our system. It's been frustration after frustration after frustration."

USAJobs does little to alleviate that frustration because it has none of the interactive features that have long been in use in the private sector, said Linda Rix, Avue's co-chief executive officer.

***

Officials in the Office of Personnel Management envision that the revamped USAJobs Web site will include features such as:

* Online application status tracking.

* Improved usability and an enhanced "look and feel."

* A resume-building function.

* "Skip" technology that allows users to bypass questions not relevant to their background.

* Seamless integration with automated assessment tools used by other agencies.

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