OPM responds to USAJobs complaints

Officials emphasize increased security and direct some blame on users.

Officials from the Office of Personnel Management apologized Thursday for technical difficulties at the recently relaunched website for government job listings and applications, but pointed to user error as the source of many of the problems.

"We made some mistakes," OPM Director John Berry said at a media briefing. "There are no questions that we got overwhelmed."

The new site, which went live Oct. 11, received nearly 45 million page views on its second day and a total of 39,642 help desk complaints to date on topics including login difficulties, unreceived email notifications and nonworking search parameters.

"I want to first apologize to all applicants who were dealing with trouble of the last three weeks," Berry said.

Security concerns drove OPM to bring the site in-house, Berry said. When USAJobs was contracted out to Monster.com in its previous iterations, federal employee job resumes co-mingled with those of the private sector on Monster's servers, potentially leaving government workers vulnerable to identify theft, according to some on the Chief Human Capitol Officers Council, which includes representatives from every major federal agency.

Kathy Dillaman, a senior policy adviser at OPM, emphasized the importance of security. "Protecting the sensitive information as it relates to federal jobs is critical," she said.

Additionally, Berry and Dillaman emphasized that many of the recent complaints fielded by OPM's help desk resulted from user-side problems. Almost 12,000 of the help desk tickets had to do with security questions, which Dillaman repeatedly stated were primarily caused by users forgetting their answers, not by software errors.

"The number of people who can't remember their own security questions was a real underestimation on our part," Dillaman said.

She again pointed to user error in addressing a frequent complaint over missing email notifications for saved searches. Many of the migrated profiles had not been updated in a while and included outdated addresses, she said, while other email accounts directed the notifications to spam folders.

Security concerns inspired OPM to require users to reset their passwords, and OPM Chief Information Officer Matthew Perry and Dillaman noted in materials provided at the event that this action accounted for 23 percent of help desk tickets. The number of daily help desk tickets submitted has decreased 54 percent in the days following the launch.

Though there were errors in search functions, Dillaman said OPM's response has been effective and the problems have "gone from being a wave of critical system function issues to . . . very specific types."

Dillaman said OPM could not have prepared for the high volume of initial site traffic. "If you have ever been to the mall the day after Thanksgiving, you know what it's like when everybody hits the doors at once," she said, adding that OPM did not have the time necessary to "fine-tune" the site prior to its launch.

Response from users has been overwhelmingly negative for USAJobs 3.0, which faced a five-hour shutdown Nov. 1 despite an increase in servers. About 667,000 applications to date have been submitted on USAJobs 3.0. Berry said that no federal agencies have had difficulties posting jobs to the site.

OPM has spent less than $1 million on post-launch emergency upgrades to USAJobs, although it has not been closely monitoring its emergency spending. "When your house is on fire, you're not arguing at Wal-Mart about the price of the garden hose," Berry said.

According to Berry, there was a period in the three weeks after the launch when it wasn't clear if OPM would be able to sustain its in-house operation, but because critical site issues have stabilized during the past week, there will be no need to revert to a contractor.

"I'm not here to declare victory or that we're done. We will continue to refine this every week," Berry said.

Correction: The original version of this story erroneously attributed information and quotes from John Berry.