OPM: USAJobs has turned a corner

The troubled USAJobs website has “turned the corner” and is well on the road to recovery three weeks after its relaunch spurred tens of thousands of user complaints, according to John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

After adding servers and personnel and addressing multiple software problems, OPM is now seeing downward trends in help desk requests and upward trends in customer satisfaction with the federal job search site, Berry said at a press conference on Nov. 3.

OPM spent 18 months developing the 3.0 version of USAJobs and moving it to its own servers; it was previously run by Monster.com. Since going live with the new version on Oct. 11, OPM's help desk has received 39,642 requests related to the site, OPM officials disclosed.

Berry said the agency worked feverishly to address the lack of capacity that initially was causing the website to malfunction. After about a week, once capacity issues lessened, OPM also assigned more personnel to the help desk and began tackling search engine problems.

Now there are indications that users are beginning to have better experiences with USAJobs.

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New complaints dropped dramatically last week, to about 1,200 per day vs. 3,000 per day in the first week, and customer satisfaction scores with USAJobs currently are in the 60 percent range, up from a low of 30 percent to 40 percent in the first days after the launch, Berry said.

“Obviously, we made some mistakes, and I want to apologize to all the applicants who have been dealing with the bumps in the new system,” Berry said at a press conference. “There is no question but that we were overwhelmed.”

“I believe we have turned the corner,” Berry said. “The trends are all moving in the right direction.”

But, he cautioned, “we are not ready to declare victory yet,” and OPM will continue to make software changes and maintain additional personnel to handle user problems until customer satisfaction scores rise.

“I would like to see customer satisfaction in the 80 percent to 90 percent range,” Berry said. When the site was operated by Monster.com, customer satisfaction scores were in the 70 percent range, he added.

Berry credited Kathy Dillaman, OPM special adviser, with leading the turnaround. He said he asked Dillaman to take charge of recovery efforts for the new website at the beginning of the second week after launch.

In the two-hour press event, Berry and Dillaman provided details on operation of the new website and what fixes have been made since the launch.

When the 3.0 version launched, peak capacity was hit almost immediately, on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13. OPM added 10 virtual servers, bringing the total to 65, and fine-tuned its load distribution, to make additional bandwidth available.

OPM also reassigned personnel to help with USAJobs and consulted with Microsoft Corp. and Google on some of the search fixes.

While performance has been trending upward, USAJobs experienced a hardware failure on Nov. 1 that took it offline. Service was restored within about five hours, which Dillaman said was a “reasonable” response for a hardware problem. She said the hardware issue was typical for a major system such as USAJobs.

The cost of the extra servers, personnel and other expenses added to aid recovery since Oct. 11 has been less than $1 million and is within OPM’s projected $6 million cost for the development of USAJobs, Berry said.

“We are still within our budget,” Berry said. “When your house is on fire, you don’t argue about the price of a garden hose at Wal-Mart.”

From Oct. 11 to Nov. 1, users successfully submitted 667,532 job applications through USAJobs. The number submitted averaged about 14,000 per day in the first week after launch, 35,000 per day in the second week, and 49,000 per day in the third week, OPM said.

The total number of job opportunities listed on USAJobs was about 12,400 as of Nov. 1.

User access to the website seems to have stabilized. The number of unique account holders logged into the site averaged 81,000 per day in the first week, 98,000 per day in the second week, and 93,000 per day in the third week after the Oct. 11 launch, according to OPM.

The recent performance problems with the USAJobs website have led Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to call for putting the website out to bid again rather than trying to operate it inhouse.

Berry acknowledged that he considered a rebid in recent days.

“Yes, I knew it was an option,” Berry said, adding that OPM continues have a contingency contract with Monster.com. However, operations improved and “now I feel our team has resolved the core functional and operating issues.”

Berry noted that he will be testifying about the USAJobs situation at a hearing to be held in several weeks by the House Oversight and Government Reform’s subcommittee on federal workforce, U.S. Postal Service and labor policy.

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

Tue, Nov 15, 2011

Where was the OPM CIO during all of this? What is the OPM CIO's portion of accountability in this problem? Will the cutting of training dollars stop now or continue? If the cutting of funding for training continues, then brace yourself for more of these kinds of major IT problems with government systems in the future.

Tue, Nov 15, 2011 Go Alice!

“We are still within our budget,” Berry said. “When your house is on fire, you don’t argue about the price of a garden hose at Wal-Mart.” --- So... can you do a cost/benefit analysis if you DON'T light your own house of fire? Dillaman said was a “reasonable” response for a hardware problem. She said the hardware issue was typical for a major system such as USAJobs. --- Complete hogwash except to someone that has NEVER run a high quality web infrastructure. The failure is typical - what is unprofessional is not designing/procuring an infrastructure that stays up through the failure - five nines? four nines? Please tell me there is a nine in there somewhere! Who let's these people be in charge of IT projects!?!?!

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 Vel DC

39,642 user complaints and 667,532 "successful" applications? How do I interpret this... 6% of applicants complained or only 94% of the people were successful in using the website, after trying for three weeks? This is all useless unless we know how many people TRIED to apply but failed or abandoned their application.

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 Erica E Street

The writer missed the three key messages! (1) OPM has pulled out a "death spiral" and that the staff should be rewarded for their heroic efforts in reversing this nose dive. (2)The CHCO Council must bear the blame because they forced a reluctant OPM to take on this task. (2)Usajobs users are too dumb to use their new and wonderful creation

Mon, Nov 7, 2011 Larry DC

I listened to a recording of the news conference. It was not funny! In as many words, OPM is saying that their biggest problem is that they have developed a perfect site and people (taxpayers) can't use it because they are stupid. "They won't read our FAQs" They won't look at our YouTube Training" They won't read our instructional documents" etc. etc. When profit is not involved, I guess that developers forget that the objective is to develop a USER friendly site. User acceptance and usability go hand in hand! Also, users are customers and the customer is ALWAYS right, especially when they are also the OWNERS (taxpayers!!)

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