The secret effort to fix USAJobs

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel reveals his behind-the-scenes role in trying to save the foundering job-search site.

While the Office of Personnel Management has been the agency in charge of the USAJobs website debacle, it turns out that Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel has been leading an IT fix-it team behind the scenes.

VanRoekel formed an “IT SWAT Team” of experts from multiple federal departments, which has been evaluating USAJobs and helping to diagnose site operation problems and find solutions in recent days, John Berry, OPM director, disclosed at a congressional hearing on Nov. 15.

The SWAT team “conducted a preliminary analysis of the situation with USAJOBS 3.0, evaluated the operational landscape, and prepared a short and long term roadmap to resolving any issues with the system,” Berry told the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Federal Labor Policy.


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The “Office of Management and Budget has been our partner and advisor on USAJOBS 3.0 along the way, and I am fully committed to working with this SWAT team and look forward to reviewing and implementing its recommendations,” Berry said in his testimony.

VanRoekel’s and OMB’s involvement had not been discussed publicly until now, despite a public request from a senator urging VanRoekel to get involved. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., made the request on Oct. 27 asking VanRoekel to step in to resolve the ongoing USAJobs crisis.

OPM launched the 3.0 version of USAJobs on Oct. 11 on its own servers for the first time, after an 18-month development effort. Previously it had been hosted by Monster.com under a contract.

Users immediately began experiencing problems, and about 40,000 Help Desk requests were submitted in the first three weeks of operation. Since the launch, OPM officials have been addressing the operating problems, and on Nov. 3 OPM officials declared that new user complaints were trending downward.

Berry and OPM got a mixed review from the House subcommittee on their handling of the USAJobs 3.0 launch.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who chairs the subcommittee, said the botched website calls into question OPM’s ability to develop and operate complex IT systems.

“The launch of USAJOBS 3.0 has left many jobseekers frustrated, a sentiment at odds with OPM’s promise of doing it as well or better than the private sector company that the department took it over from,” Ross said.

“Since taking over the online employment site, OPM has increased its fee to federal agencies using the site for employment postings. Technical problems continue to plague the website. In other words, taxpayers are now paying for a system that doesn’t work, costs more and takes business away from the private sector. This raises questions about OPM’s decision to craft an in-house system given its poor history of information systems development,” Ross added.

On the other hand, Pasquale Tamburino Jr., deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy at the Defense Department, testified that USAJobs, while initially balky, has been performing adequately in recent days.

Under the new system, DOD posted 6,500 new job announcements and received and processed more than 150,000 applications as of Nov. 3, Tamburino said.

“These statistics indicate to me we have not been hampered in our hiring efforts by the deployment of USAJOBS 3.0,” Tamburino said. “These numbers tell me that while we experienced some challenges at the start, DOD, in partnership with OPM, has confronted those challenges head-on, dealt with them quickly and effectively, and we are no longer experiencing significant system problems in DOD.”

Top hiring officials at Defense and other agencies, as members of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, unanimously had approved the decision for OPM to insource USAJobs two years ago. Supporters of the decision said it wouldj ensure federal protection of sensitive applicant information contained in USAJobs rather than have it commingled in a commercially-operated website.

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