Digital Gov

Why USAJobs needs an overhaul

Wikimedia image: USAJobs' logo

The Office of Personnel Management has announced steps to improve the much-maligned USAJobs website as part of the federal government's efforts to recruit and retain a talented IT workforce, but participants in an April 12 Senate roundtable said more must be done to improve the federal hiring process.

"The website is the 'hello, how are you' introduction to federal service, and that hasn't been the friendliest 'hello, how are you' introduction that we could have," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). "So that's why the website takes maybe a larger-than-life role in this discussion of the future of the federal workforce."

The site serves as a repository for federal job openings and receives more than 20 million monthly visits, but rising costs, IT deficiencies and a protracted hiring process have hindered the site's ability to attract prospective candidates.

OPM, which administers the site, has promised improvements before. In the spring of 2015, Stephanie Wade, director of OPM's Innovation Lab, promised rapid upgrades based on agile development principles.

Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert has pledged to transform the site into a more useful tool for job seekers. In February, she told lawmakers she hoped the site could change from "a job bulletin that was automating a process to a real resource to help people understand what are the opportunities in federal employment, is that a fit for them and how can they access those positions."

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) praised the thinking behind the site but complained about the overall slowness of the federal hiring process.

"We will never get people interested -- the good ones -- if we don't hire on a timely basis," he said. "The private sector is kicking our butt on this one. We need to speed that process up."

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee, described the site's user experience as "discouraging" and akin to "typing information into a black hole."

Mark Reinhold, OPM's associate director of employee services and chief human capital officer, told lawmakers that improvements are being made to USAJobs and cautioned that the site is only one piece of the hiring puzzle.

"There is room for improvement, and we are very focused on a set of planned enhancements, some of which have already been rolled out, and we're seeing good results in terms of user feedback," Reinhold said. "We know that USAJobs is only part of the equation. The vast majority of the hiring process is administered by agencies."

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, said unlocking hiring data would help. He proposed a number of improvements to the federal hiring process, including agency-by-agency performance data, greater accountability for political leaders and hiring managers, a meaningful government direct-hire program, amended minimum qualifications and the use of oversight to ensure efficiency.

He also backed the idea of using more paid internships as a path to federal employment.

"The reality is there is more talent interested in government jobs than the government needs, but the government is not doing a good job of finding the right talent," Stier said.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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