Lawmakers to question OPM's handling of USAJobs

Monday - 11/14/2011, 2:55pm EST

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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The Office of Personnel Management's ability to handle large-scale technology programs will be among the issues considered by lawmakers amid the fallout of the troubled USAJobs.gov redesign.

But the biggest question looming before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy Tuesday is, should OPM have even taken the site in-house in the first place?

"They have done a very ineffective job for the last 20 years in trying to get those who are retiring from the federal government set up in the system," said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee. "It's been a disaster there as well."

OPM, government inspectors, and Monster — the company that previously ran the federal jobs site — will testify Tuesday about whether OPM should handle a site that millions of job seekers depend on to find and apply for federal jobs.

"When it comes to keeping pace with the jobs market, being able to offer instantaneous, real-time availability of jobs, maybe we should outsource that service to someone that does it routinely as a matter of course, as a matter of their business," said Ross in an interview with Federal News Radio.

The scrutiny cuts across party lines.

Berry has met repeatedly with Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash), whose spokesperson said he was pleased with OPM's progress, but cautiously waiting to see whether all the issues will be resolved.

Others aren't so patient. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) has called for USAJobs to be rebid in a recent letter to federal chief information officer Steven VanRoekel. That's definitely on the table, Ross said.

Additionally, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has proposed outsourcing USAJobs in his recommendations to the deficit reduction supercommittee. Johnson estimated the government could save $58 million over 10 years by outsourcing the site. But Johnson doesn't explain how those savings could be achieved.

"You almost had a double cost in the first year because you had to pay for the existing product while you were building a new one," said OPM Director John Berry. "The five-year costs were projected to be lower than the existing contract."

OPM was paying Monster about $6 million a year to operate the site. It spent an additional $6 million to design the new version. It had to import more than 17 million user accounts and 22 million documents into the new site.

OPM spends another $6 million a year on administrating the site, which comes from fees that agencies pay to use the site.

Lawmakers, including Johnson, have accused OPM of raising agency fees by 19 percent to pay for USAJobs. OPM officials dispute that. Since 2009, the agency had rebated fees to customer agencies because OPM was not ready to build USAJobs 3.0. An OPM spokeswoman said OPM is charging the same amount for fiscal 2012 as it did in 2008.

In the hearing announcement, Ross' staff described OPM's relaunch of USAJobs in October as "disastrous."

The agency hadn't anticipated that so many job seekers would try to log on at the same time. It had to buy more servers in a hurry to handle all the users. Technical glitches also made it hard for people to search and apply for jobs.

"There are companies, such as Monster.com and others who have perfected the software, the hardware and can anticipate the problems that OPM failed to recognize," Ross said.

Monster Government Solutions operated the site until OPM took it over earlier this year.

The contractor's parent company runs the general job board Monster.com. Hackers twice broke into its resume database and gained access to job candidates' information.

"There are certain jobs that government needs to do," Berry told reporters at a recent briefing. "I would argue maintaining the basic warehouse of these resumes is a governmental function. They're government property. They contain personal information and they ought not to be commingled with other businesses or other business information."

Some industry experts do not think OPM can secure data better than a company with expertise in the field. But some experts don't think OPM can do better.

"It's no doubt that OPM is looking to ensure maximum support for this very critical function," said consultant Bob Lam, who works with technology sourcing firms that contract with the government. "I am not under the impression that applications and maintenance of a third-party program nor infrastructure support are a core competency of the predominantly policy- and regulatory-focused OPM."