The Washington Post

Man who criticized OPM’s USAJobs site fired

Days after he was quoted in a Washington Post article about the troubled rollout of the federal jobs board, a senior manager at Oracle, the software giant and major government contractor, was fired.

Adam Davidson lost his job on Nov. 11 because he violated a company policy that required him to get approval from the public affairs office before talking to a reporter, he said. Two weeks earlier he was one in a chorus of industry experts and federal job seekers criticizing the Office of Personnel Management for its problem-ridden relaunch of USAJobs.

The government decided 18 months ago to end a contract for its biggest jobs board with Monster and take the site in-house for a costly overhaul, only to be overwhelmed with complaints about system crashes, error messages and search-engine glitches. Many of the problems have been resolved with the help of new servers, help-desk staff and troubleshooting.

“If a private contractor was delivering this, the government would have terminated them for cause immediately,” Davidson, 46, of Fairfax County, said in an Oct. 27 Post story on the problems. He manages an online group of federal personnel contractors on the networking site Linked In.

His firing came within two days of a meeting between top Oracle representatives and officials with the personnel agency, Davidson said. OPM officials declined to confirm the meeting.

(usajobs.gov)

“I was terminated for cause for suggesting that OPM should be terminated for cause,” Davidson said. He was recruited to Oracle from another IT company last fall to manage federal sales of payroll, recruitment, performance management and other personnel systems.

“No one disputes the statement’s accuracy,” he said.

Personnel chief John Berry, when asked about Davidson’s firing, immediately sought an investigation into whether anyone on his staff expressed displeasure to Oracle and pressed for punitive action against Davidson.

Berry said he was not aware of the firing until a Post reporter asked him about the incident.

“It would be a violation of law, threatening a government contractor,” Berry said in an interview. “It’s not something I would condone or support. People’s careers are at stake.”

He referred the case to the personnel agency’s inspector general, Patrick McFarland. A spokeswoman for McFarland, Susan Ruge, confirmed that the office opened an investigation in December.

Oracle’s senior director of communications, Deborah Hellinger, declined to comment. Five Oracle executives with knowledge of Davidson’s case did not return phone calls.

Oracle, one of the country’s leading database makers with Washington-area offices in Reston, has a large footprint in the federal government, from payroll to performance-management systems. But it is reinvigorating its back-office functions as IT systems move to the cloud, industry leaders said. Davidson’s dismissal comes as the California-based company is bidding on a $3 million financial management software program for OPM.

The case underscores the delicate relationship between government contractors and the agencies for which they work.

“We would have had a problem with someone speaking disparagingly about one of our customers,” said Brad Antle, chairman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council and chief executive of Salient Federal Solutions, a government IT contractor. But, he said, “I’m not sure I would have let someone go over it.”

The government announced in 2009 that it would not renew its $6 million-a-year contract with Monster, the job search engine that had managed USAJobs since 2004. OPM set out to rebuild and host a new system that it said would improve the process of finding federal jobs and applying for them, while protecting the security of applicants’ personal information. Job seekers had long complained that the old system was clunky and difficult to search.

The OPM staff was so confident about the overhaul, hyped to the media and federal agencies for weeks, that the site debuted a day earlier than scheduled. Glitches popped up almost immediately. The USAJobs Facebook page and Twitter were flooded with complaints.

OPM officials said the site was overwhelmed with traffic from new and old users. But Davidson and other industry experts said that the government should have been better prepared to handle the increased traffic and questioned whether the system was properly tested before it went live.

Davidson’s criticism of the launch reflected the fierce rivalries that developed between the government and the small group of companies that develop personnel systems, also known as human capital management. OPM did not just take over USAJobs, it competes directly with the private sector for the systems that route applications from USAJobs to federal agencies.

Three weeks after the launch, Berry apologized for the problems and said his staff had added servers and bandwidth to the site to let more visitors in and speed up their searches. He reshuffled the team overseeing the project and added more staff members to help troubleshoot problems. Complaints have plummeted, although Berry said it would be months before the site is trouble-free.

Davidson said he is looking for a new job and may restart a consulting business.

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.

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