Back in 2010, after the Office of Personnel Management revamped USAJobs, the government’s employment website, John Berry, then the OPM director, said fixing federal hiring “is probably the most important legacy item I will accomplish.”
Not to disappoint Berry, but while his legacy remains, the system needs fixing again.
Berry, now ambassador to Australia, ushered in a series of federal hiring fixes with President Obama’s strong backing. Like a six-year-old car, however, things don’t always stay fixed.
Recognizing that, a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee held an informal discussion Tuesday on the hiring system and USAJobs in particular.
“I appreciate the millions of great Americans who choose to serve their neighbors as federal employees, especially when you understand the incredible challenge it is to just get through the hiring process,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), chairman of the regulatory affairs and federal management subcommittee. “In recent years, our government has struggled to recruit and keep the best talent, often because of problems with outdated technology, privacy and centralized models for hiring.”
It’s a struggle Uncle Sam is not winning, according to Linda E. Brooks Rix, co-chief executive of Avue Technologies, a private firm that works on federal personnel matters. She called the federal hiring process “a deeply broken mess.”
Her description of USAJobs sounds like a detention camp for miscreants: “USAJOBS has become home to a seething group of confused and angry job seekers and fulfills a main purpose for a limited set of people desperately seeking any kind of employment or those who don’t really know what job they want.”
That certainly is not fair to those who launched more than 1 billion USAJobs searches in 2015. Mark D. Reinhold, an OPM associate director, said 11 million account holders filed more than 22 million applications for federal employment openings.
While promoting USAJobs as “a one-stop shop” for federal jobs, Reinhold gave a nod to the system’s problems, saying OPM is helping “agencies confront difficulties in hiring.”
Reinhold said his agency recognizes the “frustration for applicants when they do not receive up-to-date feedback from hiring agencies, and to address this we are working to help agencies streamline processes and cut down on the time it takes to fill federal positions.”
While Rix’s depiction goes too far, it does reflect a growing dismay with a hiring system that apparently was not fixed as well as Berry thought. Rix thinks the day for job boards such as USAJobs is over. In her view, now is the time for recruiting by social media, the darling of everything.
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, also thinks the federal hiring process is broken and said “the dearth of millennials entering the federal government” is evidence of that. They are “very interested in and highly committed to public and national service,” he said. Yet, though individuals under 30 are 23 percent of the U.S. workforce, Stier said that “they account for just 7 percent of permanent, full‐time federal employees” and just 3 percent in fields such as information technology and cybersecurity.
Stier also had good things to say about USAJobs, commending OPM for recent improvements such as an application tracker that allows candidates to follow the progress of their applications and a résumé-building tool. Those and other improvements, Stier added, “significantly improve the usability of the website and make it more applicant-friendly.”
But not friendly enough.
Recalling the frustrations of federal job seekers, Lankford said some have compared using USAJobs to “typing your information into a black hole.”