A lack of institutional knowledge in developing IT systems was believed to be a leading cause behind the Office of Personnel Management’s troubled launch of its new government jobs search site, OPM’s inspector general testified at a House subcommittee hearing yesterday.

“I cannot stress how important it is to have the correct processes in place at the beginning of any project,” said Patrick McFarland at an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing that looked into whether OPM is meeting its mission.

OPM Director John Berry defended the decision for OPM to host the USAJobs website, saying in prepared remarks, “This recommendation was based in part on a desire to have the Government own all associated rights to the system’s data and program code.”

“Of equal or greater importance,” he said, “was the need to enhance the protection of the sensitive information provided by job applicants, limiting access for authorized use only,” noting that the decision to rebuild the site was supported by the Chief Human Capital Officers Council.

Berry acknowledged in public for the first time, however, that OPM sought help from government’s Chief Information Officer, Steve VanRoekel, when it became apparent the site was failing to meet user demand.

VanRoeke “assembled an IT SWAT team from across the federal government” which “conducted a preliminary analysis of the situation with USAJOBS 3.0, evaluated the operational landscape, and prepared a short and long term roadmap to resolving any issues with the system,” Berry said. “I am fully committed to working with this SWAT team and look forward to reviewing and implementing its recommendations.”

Berry reiterated the steps OPM has taken to overcome the website’s capacity problems and the gains it has seen in successfully submitted job applications on the system in recent days. He also restated his confidence that OPM has “turned the corner,” on the system’s recent challenges.

That seemed to be supported by a personnel official at the Defense Department which relies on USAJobs for hiring.

Pasquale “Pat” M. Tamburino, Jr., deputy assistant secretary of Defense for civilian personnel policy, said that during the first three weeks of USAJob 3.0’s operation (from Oct. 11 to Nov. 3), DoD had:
• posted over 6,500 new job announcements to USAJOBS;
• received and processed more than 150,000 job applications;
• issued nearly 13,000 referral certificates;
• made over 5,700 selections.

“These statistics indicate to me we have not been hampered in our hiring efforts by the deployment of USAJOBS 3.0,” he said.

“While we experienced some challenges at the start, DoD, in partnership with OPM, has confronted those challenges head-on, dealt with them quickly and effectively, and we are no longer experiencing significant system problems in DoD,” he said.

Representatives from Monster Worldwide, Inc., which had managed USAJobs for OPM prior to the launch of USAJobs 3.0, also testified before the committee.

Patrick W. Manzo, Monster’s executive vice president, global customer service and chief privacy officer, steered clear of criticizing OPM’s efforts with USAJobs, outlining instead, the essential requirements to support a world class online recruiting platform–and what steps Monster takes to provide one.

Whether USAJobs fully meets those requirements remains to be seen.

OPM’s McFarland acknowledged that his office had not yet had an opportunity to review the development of the USAJobs 3.0 job site, which was overwhelmed with traffic and help desk requests in the weeks following its Oct. 11 launch. He said his office plans to initiate two audits of USAJobs 3.0 this fiscal year.

McFarland, however, stressed the importance of using system development life cycle (SDLC) processes for projects such as USAJobs 3.0.

“SDLC is a process for building information systems in a very deliberate, structured, and methodical way. We believe that an important first step is for OPM to start building this institutional knowledge by retaining one or more individuals within its Office of the Chief Information Officer who understand SDLC processes and have successfully used proven methodologies for large scale system development projects,” he said.

Berry tried to make the case that efforts on other big IT projects were evidence that OPM was up to the task of managing large scale IT initiatives. He reminded the subcommittee, for instance, that the Government Accountability Office had removed OPM ‘s IT system used for processing security clearances from the annual “High Risk List” earlier this year — “not an easy task, as you know,” he said.

OPM’s overall track record in IT, however, suggests McFarland may be right, according to Valerie Melvin, director, information management and technology resources issues for the Government Accountability Office.

Melvin cited past challenges by OPM to manage its IT modernization efforts, most notably with its unsuccessful effort to modernize the government’s retirement system. The ability to support retirement information remains an area of concern to Congress.

While project and risk management deficiencies appear to be behind them, OPM still shows evidence of weakness when it comes to system testing, cost estimating and progress reporting, she said.

Subcommittee chairman Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) remained skeptical. He told POLITICO after Tuesday’s hearing examining OPM’s history of IT failures that he is still not comfortable with the agency’s ability to run the site. He signaled more congressional scrutiny of the USAJobs.gov debacle could be coming and said “we have to definitely consider the outsourcing of this particular function of OPM.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he’s still not sure whether the private sector would handle the USAJobs site better and cheaper, according to the POLITICO report.

Following are links to the prepared testimonies presented during the subcommittee’s hearings from:

John Berry, Director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Patrick E. McFarland, Inspector General, U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Pasquale “Pat” M. Tamburino, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy, U.S. Department of Defense

Valerie C. Melvin, Director, Information Management and Human Capital Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Patrick W. Manzo, Executive Vice President, Global Customer Service and Chief Privacy Officer,Monster Worldwide, Inc.

Mark Conway, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Monster Worldwide, Inc