OPM says capacity issues for USAJobs resolved

A top agency official in charge of the USAJobs federal job search website said performance problems caused by lack of system capacity are now under control, and the Office of Personnel Management is now turning its attention to improving the searchability of the system.

Matthew Perry, OPM's CIO, issued a statement on Oct. 25 defending OPM’s handling of the USAJobs 3.0 launch, saying it was impossible to predict the extremely high traffic that he maintained has caused many of the technical glitches on the site since its debut on Oct. 11.

To address those capacity problems, OPM last week installed three additional servers as well as a “governor” application that blocks a portion of incoming traffic during periods of intense usage -- a move that garnered some criticism.

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“USAJobs 3.0 was built based on the reported metrics and web trends of the previous system, but we could not foresee that we’d get three to five times the traffic in our first week than in any other week reported in the history of USAJobs,” Perry said. “Now that we’ve addressed the capacity, we’re working on search. We're doing our own testing, reviewing feedback and help desk tickets from users, and working to resolve search issues as fast as we can."

OPM previously contracted with Monster.com to host the USAJobs system, and began developing the 3.0 version on its own 18 months ago. The new system debuted on OPM’s servers on Oct. 11 and has been plagued by several thousand trouble complaints, including timeouts, failed or inconsistent searches, lost data and lost passwords.

OPM has issued daily updates blaming high traffic and claiming progress in fixing the problems. However,dozens of user complaints continue to be posted daily on the USAJobs Facebook page. Also, industry critics have questioned the progress reports and suggest the technical flaws could go deeper than OPM admits.

The relatively low number of submitted job applications on USAJobs 3.0 also could suggest ongoing ailing performance. As of Oct. 25, OPM said there were 335,174 job applications successfully submitted in the 15 days since the launch. Based on OPM’s own records, the current number appears to be substantially below the average number of job applications submitted in a comparable time period through USAJobs when Monster.com was hosting.

OPM said USAJobs received about 22 million job applications a year in its previous iteration. That would average 1.8 million job applications per month, or 900,000 submitted every 15 days. There have been 335,174 submitted in 15 days on the new site. The current number of applications is about 63 percent less than the average, possibly reflecting the performance and technical obstructions on the website.

However, another reason for a reduced number of applications could be the new configuration of some job listings on the website, suggested Perry. In the previous system, an agency could post multiple job opportunity listings for different locations and series of jobs, resulting in multiple applications submitted. In the 3.0 system, a single job opportunity is posted. From that single opportunity, a single application may be submitted for multiple locations and series.

“This difference impacts the actual number of jobs posted and therefore applications submitted in USAJOBS 3.0,” Perry said.Perry also said that new requests to the help desk are trending downward, and many initial password and search problems have been resolved.

Meanwhile, users of the new system are continuing to post complaints on the USAJobs Facebook page. Within the last several days, OPM has responded to many of those complaints by asking users to submit email messages directly to OPM instead.

“It seems OPM is trying to take the complaints off of Facebook and make them less public,” suggested a user who asked not to be named. Media reports of the Facebook criticisms by scores of USAJobs users have served to shine a spotlight on the website’s performance shortcomings.

But a digital media communications expert defended the practice of OPM asking Facebook commenters to forward their concern via email.

“In situations like this, where users are experiencing a variety of errors and site performance issues, it is not unusual to ask the user who posted to email or call the agency to follow up on the issue,” said Jennifer Modarelli, chief executive of White Horse Productions Inc.

In addition, Perry asserted in his Oct. 25 statement that only OPM officials have appropriate access for testing the USAJobs website.

“It's important to note that since launch, federal agencies are the only ones currently with the access needed to test USAJOBS 3.0 in production mode. There are no other authorized testers at this time,” Perry said in the statement.

However, Linda Rix, co-chief executive from Avue Technologies Corp., which provides job application management services to several agencies and links with USAJobs, disputed Perry’s statement. Rix has been a prominent industry critic of the USAJobs 3.0 project, both before and after the launch.

Rix said her company has performed test searches on USAJobs that emulate the experience of ordinary users. Furthermore, she said Avue has been authorized and continues to be authorized by OPM to perform tests on USAJobs, including tests to check on operation and integration of the site with Avue’s systems.

“We have been, and are, under an authorization agreement to test the system,” Rix said on Oct. 26.


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