OPM to hire CTO to handle USAJobs, retirement system

Tuesday - 11/15/2011, 1:11pm EST

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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The Office of Personnel Management will bring on a detailee this month in the role of a new chief technology officer to address issues with USAJobs.gov and the agency's outdated retirement system.

The new CTO "will enhance and centralize our IT operations," said OPM Director John Berry during a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy hearing Tuesday.

It's the latest move by the agency to pull USAJobs.gov website back from what Berry has called a "death spiral."

The agency underestimated the number of jobseekers who would use the site when it took control from contractor Monster Government Solutions last month.

OPM buys servers to attempt fix

Before the hearing, OPM attempted to fix the portal by rushing to buy more servers so the site wouldn't crash and by having staff work around the clock to fix glitches that made it hard for users to search and apply for jobs.

Berry told the subcommittee in his testimony, "Our capacity issues have been addressed, and while during the first week, capacity presented a significant challenge, I am confident this issue has been resolved."

But that wasn't enough for some committee members.

"Why would the federal government develop products and offer services that the private sector can do more efficiently and effectively with greater expertise and at a lower cost to the American taxpayer?" asked Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.).

Berry's answer went back to security. "Protecting the personal information of resumes for federal jobs is a core governmental responsibility," he said.

Twice hackers had broken into Monster's resume database while the company operated USAJobs. Berry said agency hiring chiefs were concerned about the commingling of data.

Manzo says private sector can do the job

"Director Berry has made the point that there are certain things that are inherently governmental," said Monster chief privacy officer Patrick Manzo during the second panel. "We don't think that hosting the federal government's hiring system falls into the category. We think the private sector is eminently well suited to do this job."

Monster uses "industry-leading security" made up of layered technical defenses and human analysts, he said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for USAJobs to be rebid.

But some committee members urged their colleagues not to rush to judgment.

"This site went live a month ago and it's a huge site with 700,000 people accessing it every day," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) "I have a bit more patience than some of my colleagues, but not much more."

Lynch said he was troubled by the agency's lack of resources dedicated to technology. It has tried to digitize its retirement system for 20 years and has little to show for it. Berry said OPM falls behind by 1,900 retiree applications a month and has a backlog of about 60,000 claims.

With more agencies offering buyouts and early retirement incentives, "I see this whole tidal wave of work heading to you and I'm concerned you don't have the resources to deal with it," Lynch told Berry. Berry said the agency had noticed an increase in retirement applications this year.

It is taking an "all hands on deck" approach to fixing the retirement system, he said. He has hired 35 employees to work through the backlog of retirement claims.

He said OPM, in the past, wasted time and money by trying to digitize the system at once. A smarter approach, he said, was to tackle the low-hanging fruit first.

"We need to automate this in bite size chunks that we can deliver successes to you, the Congress and the taxpayer," he said.

For example, OPM could automate claims from retirees who spent their entire careers at a single agency, he said.

But he said OPM had no business plan or deadline for making changes.

Subcommitte chair calls for business plan

Subcommittee chairman Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said he would press the agency to show a business plan in subsequent hearings.

Members of the second panel questioned whether OPM had the resources to develop and implement such a plan.

"OPM lacks an overall management structure, if you will, IT management capability in terms of the fundamental tools and mechanisms for planning and managing," said Valerie Melvin, the Government Accountability Office's director of Information Management and Human Capital Issues. "In saying they have to develop a plan moving forward, it's important they look at the mistakes of their past efforts and draw from those experiences."

The agency also needs to examine whether it has the right people for the job, she added.

Another issue is OPM's approach to IT security. Agency inspector general Patrick McFarland told the committee OPM tends to decentralize cybersecurity, which doesn't guarantee all systems are equally secured.

There was a "lack of institutional knowledge within OPM concerning system development lifecycle (SDLC) processes," he said in his written testimony. McFarland said his office plans to audit USAJobs's security and systems development process in the coming weeks.

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