Two powerful Democrats are pressing the federal agency that runs the government’s main jobs board to fix technical bugs plaguing the website — or turn it over to the private sector.
A revamped version of USAJobs.gov made its debut on Oct. 11 and is now quickly approaching its third week riddled with problems. The botched relaunch has frustrated federal agencies and job seekers — and threatens to undermine the tech bona fides administration that flaunts its tech savvy.
At issue is the Office of Personnel Management’s decision to take control of the federal government’s hiring website from Monster.com, which had run the site’s operation for the last seven years.
The idea was for OPM’s in-house operation to streamline the site to make it easier to apply and faster for agencies to identify and hire candidates. That’s not been the case so far, as the site has crashed repeatedly and bombarded job seekers with errors.
Now Congress is turning up the heat.
“We can’t have the U.S. government standing in the way of people getting jobs because of a faulty website,” Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) told POLITICO. “I think the private sector should be brought back in to handle this until they can get this mess straightened out.”
Dicks’s comments come one day after Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrote the administration’s top technology official, urging him to “intervene, investigate and resolve the problems with USAJobs as soon as possible.”
“Since OPM took over and relaunched the USAJobs site two weeks ago, agencies and job seekers have encountered great difficulties, facing repeated outages and numerous glitches,” Kerry wrote to Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel.
“These breakdowns again raise real questions about the decision to take this operation in-house, and in light of the poor transition and launch, I am renewing the recommendation for the administration to seek a vendor through a competitive bidding process to manage this service,” Kerry added.
Monster.com., which has seized on the debacle to offer free job postings for federal agencies for 30 day, is headquartered in Kerry’s home state. Another firm, Avue Technologies, which has been critical of OPM’s management of USAJobs and runs a competing jobs site for government agencies, is located in Dicks’s home state.
OPM had pegged most of the site’s problems to what it described as unprecedented traffic, some three to five times the normal. Since the site relaunched, OPM scrambled to add servers and bandwidth and says capacity issues have been resolved.
The agency said Thursday that more than 400,000 applications have been submitted since the updated site went live, and some 10,000 job announcements on any given day.
“There’s been hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, who have been able to use the site successfully,” said Thomas Richards, OPM’s deputy director of congressional and legislative affairs. “There have been people who had problems, and we’re working to fix those problems.”
That gives the lawmakers poking at OPM’s handling of the website little comfort.
Dicks, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee, is worried that the government is missing out on candidates for defense-related positions.
He’s trying to schedule a meeting with OPM Director John Berry next week to talk about the problems and may seek a committee investigation or ask the federal government’s top watchdog to look into the issue.
“My message to him is this: Get this thing straightened out in a hurry,” Dicks said. “We’re going to listen to what Berry has to say before we jump.”
On the Senate side, congressional aides say they are pushing for a hearing to vet the issue.
“This is a large complex IT project that not only involves every agency but reaches millions of Americans,” OPM’s Thomas said. “We would expect Congress would have an interest in this and continue its oversight responsibilities.”
“This initial system is supposed to be the starting point we can build on,” he added. “What we see today we expect to improve on for years to come.”
Also irking Dicks is the fact that OPM charges federal agencies a fee for using USAJobs, the latest version of which cost $6 million to build.
According to OPM’s FY2012 budget request, the agency collected more than $30 million in FY2010, $36.1 million in FY2011 and estimates it will bring in roughly $30.5 million during the current budget cycle from agencies in collection fees related to the program.
“OPM is asking government agencies to put up money,” Dick said, “and they can’t perform.”
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 5:41 a.m. on October 28, 2011.
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