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Linda E. Brooks Rix Headshot

USAJobs: Help Not Wanted, But Desperately Needed

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Who didn't see this coming? Certainly not applicants for jobs with the federal government.

One year behind schedule and nearly $20 million spent this year alone, the Office of Personnel Management couldn't come close to engineering a smooth launch of its USAJobs 3.0 platform update on Wednesday.

Users took to venting their frustration on USAJobs' Facebook page, complaining about problems including but not limited to inaccurate search returns, inaccurate geographic filtering, server capacity issues, lost profile and saved information, account access problems, and personal information security issues.

Just one day earlier, OPM threw up its "Mission Accomplished" banner. Users weren't buying it.

From a news release on its own site, "OPM is proud to announce the successful implementation of USAJOBS 3.0."

From Keith Lehman to USAJobs: "You all seriously need to take this offline and fix the bugs. Running way too slow, takes me places that I never even click on."

OPM: "USAJOBS 3.0 has a new, more robust search engine."

From Boyd Logan to USAJobs: "Site keeps crashing when I search. When I try and narrow a search down ... it says there aren't any jobs matching that description for yesterday, 3 days ago, etc., when I know that there are."

OPM: "Job seekers are invited to 'Sign In' ... to reset their password; build new user profiles; and create new saved searches on the My Account page."

From Clarence Debby McClendon-Tolliver to USAJobs: "I tried to sign in with my user name/password and it rejected it. So when I asked for my password to be reset, I was emailed a link that was suppose [sic] to do that. Instead the link sent me to the sign on page again."

From Arthur Bides to USAJobs: " 'Application Error has occurred.' Over and over again."

From Kelly Eckert to USAJobs: "Every time I put in a search for Germany it takes me to Delaware??"

You get the idea. If the nation's unemployment rate wasn't above 9 percent, it would be comical.

But let's put this in perspective, from the inside. My company, Avue Technologies, was one of three testing the new USAJobs system during its transition period between Oct. 6 and Wednesday (the others were Monster.com and NASA).

Continuously performing system tests on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12, the numbers grew grimmer and grimmer for USAJobs as more people tried to use the system. Out of 2,516 identical searches on Oct. 11, 412 failed. One day later over a six-hour period, 848 identical searches were performed with 601 application failures (a 71-percent failure rate). By mid-afternoon the failure rate had reached 96 percent.

That's what you call a complete meltdown.

It's also the scenario that many have predicted as OPM continued to bring in-house software and platform services that had been more efficiently and effectively performed by the private sector. The 2.0 version of USAJobs was operated and hosted by Monster.

It's now all OPM on its own servers, and OPM can't get out of the way of its own largesse.

Why is the government continuing to waste millions in taxpayer dollars each year on failed IT solutions?

In 2008, Karen Evans -- then the administrator of the e-Government and IT for the Office of Management and Budget and the head of the Federal CIO Council -- told attendees at the SaaS/GOV conference, "Our track record is clear -- we are not very good at delivering our own software in the time frame set. We're also not very good at managing large projects. Some agencies haven't embraced the service approach, often because they want hands-on control of software development. But government agencies can't afford to keep delivering their own software."

OPM can't stop. It has too much invested -- $1.7 billion annually, to be more precise -- in its fee-for-service business, a conflict-of-interest proposal that has it selling services like its substandard, underperforming platforms USAStaffing and USAJobs to the very federal agencies it oversees.

USAStaffing, OPM's hiring management system that connects to USAJobs, was down for three days in August before anyone at OPM noticed and took it offline for repairs. It was an IT disaster that saw 70,000 federal employment applications lost, partially deleted or affected in some way. OPM ended up blaming Oracle for the debacle (because it couldn't have been OPM's fault, right?).

As all of this has happened, OPM has ignored the Obama administration's mandate that federal agencies pursue cloud computing solutions, which are more cost-effective and easier to maintain, manage and scale.

OPM aggressively touts its "Talent Management Services" as "workforce solutions by government, for government," effectively giving the middle finger to the administration's directive.

What OPM did with USAJobs 3.0 was simple recreate the functionality that existed in the previous system, provided and operated by Monster Government Solutions. OPM wasn't trying to make it better, improve the applicant experience or decrease inefficiency, just make it "government-owned" by replicating every line of code that already existed in Monster's system.

Let's turn the mic over to OPM Director John Berry, who announced the "successful" launch of USAJobs 3.0 on Oct. 11. Hmmm.

"Our government is full of innovators, making Americans' lives better."

No, no. That's not it. Affordable Care Act ... Government's Chief People Person ... 1798 and Napoleon has invaded Africa ... Admiral Nelson ... Nile moment .... It's got to be here somewhere in his prepared remarks. Ah. Found it. Thirty-six paragraphs and three pages in.

"And our next IT innovation: As we speak, we're actually nearing the end of a 91-hour rebirth of USAJOBS.gov . . . ." Berry said. "This is the culmination of an 18-month overhaul process, and it underlines both the high stakes of what we do, and the value we get when we bring people together.

"We involved our customers every step of the way, from the decision to bring the system in-house, to the specs for the next version, to the implementation plan. And we followed the White House guidance by building and testing it in pieces, so we could find and address problems quickly. We built a new, open system."

He then returned to his history lesson, referencing the "Age of Pericles" and the "Age of Augustus." If only Berry and OPM had learned from government's lackluster history of building an operating its own systems.

The late Steve Jobs often talked about the simplicity of Apple's products and why consumers were so drawn to them: "They just work."

If only USAJobs did.

Linda E. Brooks Rix is co-CEO of Avue Technologies. Founded in 1983, Avue Technologies has pioneered the technology of smaller, better government. The company provides the public sector with integrated technology and service solutions that dramatically increase enterprise-wide visibility and management effectiveness, workforce productivity, and manager and worker satisfaction. In the fight against "business-as-usual" in Washington, Avue helps power "business-as-unusual." Avue is a privately-held company headquartered in Tacoma, Washington and with offices in Washington, D.C.

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