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Software glitches force shutdown of agency hiring Web sites

Problems with Monster’s QuickHire system force Homeland Security, HHS to find alternate ways of processing job applications.

For more than a month, federal job search Web sites at the Health and Human Services and Homeland Security departments have been shut down because of problems with software purchased from Virginia-based Monster Government Solutions. The problems, which began late last year and culminated March 9 with decisions at both departments to take the job sites down, have forced them to find alternative means of posting job announcements.

Monster's QuickHire product, one of several commercial automated hiring systems available to government agencies, is supposed to reduce the time agencies spend processing job applications by asking applicants to submit answers to questions, as well as resumes, online. The system then ranks candidates based on their inputs. Only the top candidates are reviewed by agency human resources personnel.

In the wake of the QuickHire shutdown, HHS has returned to manually processing applications, creating headaches for personnel offices no longer staffed to deal with large numbers of applications. DHS has opted to contract with the Office of Personnel Management to process job applications at a cost of about $1,800 per job.

Monster General Manager Chris McCarrick said the problem stemmed from a high number of applications received by the systems, overwhelming the capabilities of Monster's software. He said the company is "doing everything possible to restore confidence" and said he did not believe other customers would be affected.

But other agencies have reported less severe problems. The Bureau of Land Management experienced a server outage for a few hours earlier this year. Commerce Department officials have been forced to manually review some applications out of concern that QuickHire is not ranking them correctly.

Officials at Commerce "have made it clear to Monster that these are major problems," said Allison Hopkins, director of employment advisory services at Commerce's International Trade Administration. "We need expeditious resolutions, and we are going to hold them accountable for that, or look at other options."

In February, McCarrick wrote to government clients to apologize for the problems. In the past year, he wrote, "our development organization was not able to keep pace [with client needs] and numerous software, performance and support issues have surfaced as a result. This is not, under any circumstances, what you should expect from [Monster] and we are taking immediate actions to ensure this never happens again."

Among the actions McCarrick noted were the hiring of more than 12 employees and the purchase of computer hardware for the firm's data center. The company, he said, is also working to "optimize" its software.

The system shutdown at DHS has affected the application process at the bureaus of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Services. The agency said hundreds of applications were lost, forcing DHS to contact applicants by e-mail and ask them to resend their materials. McCarrick denied that any applications were lost. DHS is now paying OPM to process applications through its USAStaffing system and training HR staff in how to use the OPM system. Agency spokeswoman Christianna Halsey said the shift had delayed the posting of 750 job announcements. No decision has been made on whether to return to the QuickHire system if Monster fixes it. At HHS, Robert Hosenfeld, the agency's deputy assistant secretary for human resources, estimates the cost to the agency of manually processing applications is running between $300,000 and $1 million per month, much of that going to contractors. Monster has promised to rewrite software code in an effort to speed processing and expects to have the HHS system back up and running by June. Denise Kersten contributed to this report.