Eric Katz | March 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

How the Government Plans to Revamp USAJOBS and Make Federal Service 'Hip'

"We need to be sure that we’re hip," said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta. "We need to be sure that we’re hip," said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta. Jamie Cotten/Labor Department

Federal officials on Monday announced plans to reshape government hiring and employee engagement efforts -- including an overhaul of the troubled job announcement site USAJOBS -- saying the changes were “a long time coming.”

Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta met with reporters and held a digital town hall to announce the plans, which she said reflect both her own ideas and President Obama’s management agenda. OPM is referring to the initiative as “REDI” (recruitment, engagement, diversity and inclusion), and it includes new programs as well as ongoing efforts. 

Generally, Archuleta said OPM will redouble its efforts to work as a customer service provider to federal agencies and boost data-driven decision making. One of the major tenets of the plan is to “untie the knots” of federal hiring, which the director admitted was burdened by regulations and too complicated to serve both the job seeker and employer.

Part of that process will stem from using new digital tools that help agencies refine their recruiting efforts, such as where unrepresented demographic groups are located and ways to attract science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) applicants. It will also involve deploying teams from OPM to help agencies solve problems including how to use various flexibilities in hiring authorities, write job announcements and determine the best ways to hire en masse.

Archuleta stressed the importance of teaching agencies and individual hiring managers “how to fish,” rather than becoming the permanent solution they turn to every time a problem arises.

Can't Hire, Can't Fire

Read Government Executive's January/February cover stories for a more in depth look at Uncle Sam's struggles with hiring and firing.

“We have to have the leadership actually guiding this,” Archuleta said. “It can’t be OPM doing it by itself.”

OPM is also working on a re-launch of USAJOBS, which in 2014 served 187 million people conducting 1 billion job searches. The agency has tasked its Innovation Lab with coming up with new ideas and designs to remake the website, with the first changes expected in May. It has also built a dashboard for agencies to determine where potential applicants become frustrated and drop out of the process. Using this applicant data will also help agencies target their recruiting efforts and inform the government of how to build a website that captures the increasingly short attention of its users, especially young people.

“We need to be sure that we’re hip,” Archuleta said, “[that] we’re cool, we’re up to date, we’re millennial.” To that end, OPM has been conducting one-on-one interviews and focus groups with would-be applicants.

After the May changes -- which will mostly be back-end fixes -- go live, OPM will roll out new developments to the website every 12 weeks. A final overhaul of the website, which could include an entirely new design or changes to the current one, will become public in early 2016. OPM’s Innovation Lab team emphasized its dependence on “human-centered design” in revamping the site.

Previous efforts to improve USAJOBS ran into serious technical glitches and complications with contractors. The site still faces significant usability complaints.

“People have wanted to see some changes to USAJOBS for some time,” conceded Tracy Orrison, OPM’s deputy program manager for the website. “Technology and user needs have changed over time. The site really hasn’t kept up with that.”

In addition to the technical changes, Archuleta promised OPM would look at its own rules and regulations on federal hiring to weed out those determined to be overly complicated or outdated. 

Archuleta also spoke of the need to better engage employees once they begin their federal careers, with a particular focus on management. A new Senior Executive Service onboarding program, which President Obama announced last year, is currently in a pilot phase. The Federal Coaching Network just graduated its first group of trainees, and OPM recently launched the Situational Mentoring Program.

OPM is helping agencies find exactly where to focus their workforce morale efforts with the previously launched UnlockTalent.gov, which shows office-by-office results from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The data can be broken down by question and demographic group, occupational series, length of service, and more. The agency is also building a public-facing website that will provide more information on federal employees organized by location, salary, job type, agency and other factors, in the hopes it will help job seekers learn more about where to apply for positions.  

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