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11/16/2011
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USAJobs Site Glitches Point To Longtime IT Woes

Fed jobs website outages stem from longstanding Office of Personnel Management problems with IT development and oversight, auditor tells Congress.

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Issues that plagued a revamp of the USAJobs.com website have root in historic problems at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in managing IT system development, according to federal watchdog agencies.

OPM inspector general Patrick McFarland testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that the OPM lacks "institutional knowledge" on what it takes to build information systems in "a very deliberate, structured, and methodical way."

This long-time problem at the agency likely led to issues that affected users' ability to access and successfully utilize the federal job site since a Oct. 11 relaunch, in which the OPM moved the site in-house from its previous version, which was hosted by Monster.com.

The IG has not had a chance to fully audit what went wrong with the site, which initially crashed due to higher-than-expected traffic. For weeks it was difficult for users to search and access profile and password features, among other issues.

However, McFarland said his office will begin two audits of the site to see what went wrong during this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2012.

[The feds have big plans for IT. Read U.S. CIO VanRoekel Outlines What's Next For Fed Tech.]

Valerie C. Melvin, director of information management and technology resources issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO); two executives from Monster.com; and John Berry, OPM director, were also among those who testified before the committee Tuesday.

The OPM has struggled in the past with the development of other internal IT systems, a precedent that likely affected the USAJobs redesign. According to Melvin's testimony, an effort to modernize its retirement system several years ago also went awry due to poor project management and planning.

The GAO identified specific problems in project, risk, and organizational and change management as the OPM developed the new system, and it advised the GAO to address weaknesses in these areas as far back as 2005.

The GAO made more recommendations in 2009, and while efforts were made to tackle these and other issues, the OPM eventually scrapped the project and currently has not made new plans to restart it, Melvin said.

In the OPM's defense, the agency's director Berry testified that his team learned "a great deal" from the failure of its retirement-system modernization project, and while a new project is not in the works, individual efforts are being made to improve parts of its retirement-payments system.

In terms of issues that affected USAJobs, he said he's "confident" that the site's traffic problems have been resolved.

Moreover, since users first reported the issues, the OPM has stayed on top of them--particularly those reported on social networks like Twitter and Facebook--and continues to address problems with the site and any lingering concerns or questions users have in the wake of relaunch challenges.

To focus on this, Berry said he "handpicked a great team" from across his agency to work around the clock to ensure USAJobs offers full functionality to job seekers. The OPM also is working alongside U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel, who assembled "an IT SWAT team" comprised of IT experts across the federal government.

"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 said. "I feel confident that they have helped turn the corner by addressing these challenges and we will be able to move forward in the strongest possible fashion."

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