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Can OPM Avoid Another Retirement Systems Modernization Crash

Can OPM Avoid Another Retirement Systems Modernization Crash

By Jason Miller, Federal News Radio, with comments by Avue’s Linda Rix

1987 — that was the first time the Office of Personnel Management tried to update its retirement systems. Over the last 29 years, there has been failure after wrong turn, after change of direction, after smart pauses to reassess the path forward, after new strategy, after failure, after… well, you get it. Federal retirement counselors and OPM’s folks in Boyers, Pennsylvania, where the retirement processing office works, continue to wait for modern technology. And federal retirees and soon-to-be retirees continue to hope and pray their paper files make it to the right person for processing. Right now, the retirement backlog stands at just over 14,000 as of May 2016.

Linda Rix, co-CEO of Avue Technologies and a former OPM executive, said large-scale IT projects across the government — not just at OPM — suffer from common mistakes. “You tend to see the same requirements for the same business processes that keep resurfacing. It complicates projects like retirement systems modernization because agencies want custom code instead of trying to be adaptive with someone else’s system,” Rix said. “The issue for OPM, and more broadly in the government, is while OMB has been pushing cloud first, and innovation with organizations like GSA’s 18F, at the end of the day what makes it very difficult is the business processes currently in place are not adaptive enough to take advantage of innovation. Projects die under their own weight because there are always different rules and processes that aren’t applied to take advantage of more modern and innovative technologies.” Read the Article

Fresh Take: Results of Federal Hiring Reform Are In: Top 3 Reasons Why Nothing Works

Fresh Take: The Results of Federal Hiring Reform Are In: The Top 3 Reasons Why Nothing Works

Federal SoupOn Federal Soup, Fresh Take by Avue Technologies Corporation Co-CEO Linda Rix

The Fall 2015 MSPB newsletter, Issues of Merit, declares, “The Federal Civil Service Hiring System Is Out of Balance.” The article points to the gender imbalance in civil service hiring and blames veterans’ preference, disparaging vets by calling them “minimally qualified,” and promoting the notion that veterans’ preference is a non-merit factor that allows vets to “block the list” and make it “effectively impossible to hire the preferred candidate.” MSPB even manages to mislead when using the term “disabled veteran.” But MSPB misses the point entirely, using grade-school pie charts to take tackle the enigmatic federal hiring process—and ignoring three real reasons the hiring process is out of whack. Read the Post

Fresh Take: Leadership Will, or Leadership Won't

Fresh Take: Leadership Will, Or Leadership Won’t

LOGO-FEDERAL-SOUPOn Federal Soup, Fixation on Firing Feds: part four in a four-part series by Avue Technologies Corporation Co-CEO Linda Rix

Imagine you are a federal executive—you feel you understand the laws governing civil service, yet you don’t take action when it’s warranted. Why not? The question is a good one. Is it lack of confidence? Perhaps lack of upper management support? Has the process become so obfuscated it feels too risky to act? Is it a lack of leadership will? Do you lack documentation? Do you fear the action will result in a complaint or protracted appeal process? If you lose on appeal, does it adversely impact your own career? Is the person a favorite of yours—or maybe your boss or boss’s boss? Read the Post

Fresh Take: Appoint, Resign, Repeat

Fresh Take: Appoint, Resign, Repeat

Federal SoupOn Federal Soup, Fixation on Firing Feds: part three in a four-part series by Avue Technologies Corporation Co-CEO Linda Rix

Those in Congress who argue that some functions are “inherently governmental”—despite the fact that private-sector companies are more experienced, agile, accountable and infinitely cheaper than OPM and its endless cascade of chargebacks to agencies—they need to reset the idea of what constitutes the hiring or appointment of capable individuals. Read the Post

Fresh Take: Fixation on firing feds: Fire or retire ... about those pension penalties

Fresh take: Fixation on firing feds: Fire or retire … about those pension penalties

Federal SoupOn Federal Soup, part two in a four-part series by Avue Technologies Corporation Co-CEO Linda Rix

In January 2015, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced the “Increasing VA Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015.” This bill, H.R. 473, would let the Department of Veterans Affairs reduce a Senior Executive Service employee’s pension if he or she is convicted of certain felonies. This would include in its sweep SES employees in the process of being fired as a result of a conviction, but who leave the VA before the firing action can take place. If the bill passes, it would introduce the first performance-based pension penalties. Read the Post

Fresh Take: Fixation on firing feds: Public Servant or Political Piñata?

Fresh Take: Fixation on firing feds: Public Servant or Political Piñata?

Federal SoupOn Federal Soup, part one in a four-part series by Avue Technologies Corporation Co-CEO Linda Rix

The focus on firing federal employees is a pendulum that swings with political tides … much like outsourcing, pay-for-performance, and public-private pay parity. And when it comes to congressional interest in firing feds, nothing fuels the fire like agency scandals—GSA conferences, VA veteran appointment backlogs, IRS targeting conservative advocacy groups, Secret Service partiers. Hearings abound—and then, a cry for action. Read the Post

Avue: The first certified Federal Human Resource Line of Business provider to be approved as FedRAMP Compliant

Avue: The first certified Federal Human Resource Line of Business provider to be approved as FedRAMP Compliant

TACOMA, Wash., March 25, 2015 — Avue has become the first, and only, certified Federal Human Resources Line of Business provider to be approved as FedRAMP Compliant. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, is a government-wide program that provides a government-wide approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services.

FedRAMP is the result of close collaboration with cybersecurity and cloud experts from the General Services Administration (GSA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Defense (DOD), National Security Agency (NSA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council and its working groups, as well as private industry.

But Avue Technologies’ out-front performance comes as no surprise. In fact, it’s expected.

“To Avue, being first means taking care of our clients,” said Avue Co-CEO Linda Rix. “We want our clients to fearlessly demonstrate they are compliant with all major HCM, acquisition and IT requirements, and they can with Avue’s FedRAMP-compliant offerings.”

It’s a commitment Avue has established time and again for more than 25 years — when a leap in technology was required, Avue was there first.

• In 1988, when personal computers began hitting the consumer market, Avue launched the first automated Federal job classification system in a nascent programming language, called C, and dubbed it ProClass.
• Six years later, at the birth of the Internet, Avue was the first to rewrite its Federal Human Resources client-server product into Java — one of the first five B2B applications to be written in Java.
• Back in 2001, when Federal agencies began to see the need for the power and economy of hosted solutions, Avue was the first to offer a fully hosted Federal Human Capital Management platform in the Cloud.
• When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the General Services Administration (GSA) launched the certification program for Human Resources Lines of Business in 2007, Avue’s Federal Human Capital Management Platform was the first to be certified.

“We have always put the needs of our clients at the forefront, ensuring they always have the right technology in place to meet their needs,” Rix said.

Avue’s certification as a FedRAMP Compliant HCM Platform is as significant as it is powerful. OMB has required that all currently implemented cloud services, and those currently in the acquisition process, meet all FedRAMP requirements or be working toward FedRAMP compliancy, as a FedRAMP In-Process system, on or before June 5, 2014.

This means that any HCM or payroll or HR software hosted for a federal agency, even if procured through an interagency agreement or hosted by another federal agency, must meet the strict security and IT standards set by the FedRAMP PMO (GSA and OMB) – and have demonstrated that through a rigorous and well-documented security assessment process.  Independent third parties test and assess the system for compliance and the FedRAMP PMO reviews packages submitted for approval.

Avue’s FedRAMP Compliant HCM platform means that all 15 modules within the Avue Platform operate under the most current and rigorous security and risk management standards the Federal government requires. Whether it is Talent Management, Talent Acquisition, Classification, Benefits, Position Management, Performance Management, or Learning Management, every element of the Avue HCM Platform is secure and compliant.

You can learn more about FedRAMP by visiting www.fedramp.gov. You’ll find Avue under FedRAMP Compliant Systems by expanding the list under “Cloud Compliant Systems with an Agency FedRAMP Authorization.” For more, see Avue’s FedRAMP page.


A New Hiring Trend You've Never Heard About

Federal Soup post: A New Hiring Trend You’ve Never Heard About

By Linda Brooks Rix

February 20, 2015

You may have blinked and missed a job posting on USAJOBS. Literally. There’s a new trend in federal hiring, made public by an article in The Baltimore Sun last summer1 : Agencies now are closing job postings after receiving a set number of applications—and that means some job postings may be up for just a few hours.

Here’s what the job posting language looks like: “This vacancy is limited to the first 25 applications received and will close at midnight Eastern Time on the day this application limit is reached regardless of the closing date specified in this vacancy announcement. Any application received prior to midnight Eastern Time of the day the application limit is reached will be accepted and considered.  You are strongly encouraged to submit all required supporting documents at the time of application should the vacancy close earlier than stated in this announcement due to the applicant limit being reached.  Supporting documents will not be accepted once the vacancy announcement closes.” (This is from a U.S. Geological Survey posting for a Geologist (GS-13) in St. Petersburg, Fla.)

I filed this under “Things That Make You Go Hmmm…” when I first saw the article. Then curiosity got the better of me, so I did a little research. I thought I’d look at the behavior of successful applicants, those whom the agency actually hired.

Read more of this post here


Linda Rix Discusses Wildland Firefighting and New Contracting Rules on Fed Access

Fed Access: Wildland Firefighting, New Contracting Rules and More

September 20, 2013

On Federal News Radio’s Fed Access, Linda Rix, co-CEO of Avue Technologies, joins host Derrick Dortch to talk about a wide variety of issues affecting federal workers and contractors.

She’ll give us an update on a program started by her company called the “Wildfire Exchange” which helps find workers for wildland firefighting jobs.

Rix will also discuss how contractors will be affected by new regulations that encourage them to hire veterans and workers with disabilitites.

She will also talk about a new performance app designed by her company, to assist managers and supervisors when they are involved in a disciplinary action against an employee.

You can listen to the complete interview here.


The Grey Twilight of Veterans' Preference

Linda E. Brooks Rix for The Huffington Post

August 11, 2013

In 1944, in fulfillment of a promise made by this country to members of its armed forces, the Veterans’ Preference Act was made the law of the land. That Act — its roots dating to the Revolutionary War and reaffirmed time and again through the decades that follow provides that certain military service confers an entitlement to preferential treatment when an eligible veteran applies for a civilian position in the United States federal government.

It is not a blanket entitlement. Many serve that are not eligible for veterans’ preference, as this entitlement is called. And, while all preference eligibles are veterans; not all veterans are preference eligibles. Meaning, to exercise this preference you must have served in a certain war, campaign, or era (such as the Vietnam Era) or earned a certain medal or badge. It is an earned entitlement.

On the face of it, this would seem fair and just — recognition of the hardships of battle, the economic stress of military service, the delayed career progression, and the emotional toll on family and self. This one small gesture was to help restore the footing underneath those who have chosen, often in the prime career- and income-building years of their lives, to risk everything in service to their country.

And yet, it is highly convoluted and controversial.

On August 1, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing, the principal focus being veterans’ preference. Opening statements by the Committee Chairman and Ranking Member expressed unqualified support for veterans’ preference and outrage at potential retaliation against whistleblowers reporting veterans’ preference violations. Exuberant Committee members expressed unflagging support for veterans and shared their own stories of military service.

Then, the indignation morphed to confusion, then puzzlement, and then to general uncertainty as testimonies unfolded in front of them all.

Slowly, the issues began to materialize and two conflicting accounts emerged. On the one side, a harmful procedural error occurred requiring a corrective measure. On the other, a pattern of behavior occurred manifested willful and intentional action against veterans.

And so goes the continuing saga of veterans’ preference and federal employment. Like the duality of the phrase “Thank you for your service” — being both ubiquitous and yet profoundly sincere — veterans’ preference possesses a duality of sorts. It is acknowledged as an honorable fulfillment of a nation’s promise, and, concomitantly, an advantage that is perceived by many to circumvent meritocracy.

And that’s before you get to the convoluted rules of just how it is applied in federal hiring.
In May of 2010, the President issued an Executive Memorandum on Improving the federal Recruitment and Hiring Process. It stated that agencies must implement, by November 1, 2010, a method of hiring called “category rating” instead of the previously mandated procedure called the “Rule of 3” approach.

While this materially changed how veterans’ preference was applied in federal hiring, the memorandum’s actual focus was on simplifying the hiring process and reducing the time from job posting to hire. Category rating was promoted as a simpler application of veterans’ preference which would allow more candidates to be considered than the limitations of the Rule of 3 which only allowed hiring managers to consider the top 3 scoring candidates.

Following his testimony, in an attempt to answer questions from Committee members, the Department of Energy’s Inspector General stumbled for an easy definition of category rating, saying that category rating has “many nuances and subtleties.”

You can say that again.

In the absolute manifestation of the law of unintended consequences, category rating has done what the Rule of 3 could never do — it has brought federal hiring to a grinding halt.
In the years since the May 2010 Presidential Memorandum, a very common tale has surfaced. A federal agency runs afoul of a hiring initiative, gets audited by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and has its delegated hiring authority revoked, rendering it incapable of making new hires. Not just one agency. Not just a few. But many, many agencies — in some cases over half of the agencies within a Department. And it is a rapidly growing trend.

And therein lies the problem.

Imagine setting policy with an implementation plan of “release a memorandum and assume all will follow.” Where Rule of 3 had very specific procedures, time worn and tested, Category Rating is without structure and has been morphing rapidly as decisions about the appropriateness of each agency’s procedures come under the scrutiny of an OPM audit. Rather than dictate a framework of procedural correctness, OPM is defining it as the implementation of Category Rating moves along.

There is a better way.

These are five points of change. Call it, “Contract with America’s Veterans” that will fix the underlying issues related to the clumsy and often “black box” activity associated with federal hiring, applying veterans’ preference, and the federal government’s merit system of employment.

    1. Certify Veterans Once: Veterans need a permanently issued national certification that spells out exactly what preference they’re entitled to have. And one that takes any veterans preference adjudication out of the picture for individual HR specialists. Adjudication of veterans preference occurs each and every time a preference eligible applies for a position in the federal government — each time, a HR specialist repeats the process of determining whether preference applies and the level of preference granted. Not only is this wasteful and repetitive, it results in inconsistent treatment and makes an agency vulnerable to have its hiring authority revoked. This adjudication authority should be given to the Veterans Service Organizations to manage because they have the outreach and accessibility to veterans worldwide and it has the benefit of avoiding the bureaucracy associated with benefits processing agencies like the VA, whose backlog of processing claims and delivering entitlements has made the Department infamous.

 

    1. Use Technology to Track, Report On, and Alert Agencies on Veterans Preference Violations: Agencies using applicant tracking systems (ATS) should deploy technologies that prevent overrides of veterans’ preference and give an immediate alert to the HR specialist or hiring manager or general counsel that the action they’re taking is increasing the agency’s risk for violation of preference eligibles’ rights. Similarly, that ATS should put the brakes on when selection of a non-preference eligible candidate over a preference eligible veteran occurs.

 

    1. Provide a Noncompetitive Hiring Authority for Veterans: Give every exiting veteran non-competitive hiring authority for two years — just as the government does with returning Peace Corps volunteers. It’s a simple, straightforward, no-nonsense way to hire vets without requiring them to compete for the position. This two-year period would not replace veterans’ preference, yet it would give returning servicemen and women status for a soft landing after their time in uniform.

 

    1. Make the Audit and Revocation of Hiring Authority a Transparent Process: When OPM or a Department revokes an agency’s hiring authority, that revocation should be published on OPM’s website and the reasons for revocation be clearly identified. The entire federal HR community suffers from lack of clear direction and clarity on best practices and risky practices that lead to violations. Clearly articulating best practices and sharing experiences across the federal community, effectively trains HR specialists — especially on veterans hiring issues. Better yet, revoke OPM’s authority to revoke an agency’s hiring authority. Instead, leave that to the Office of Special Counsel, whose role is to prosecute violations of veterans’ preference among other things, and the Merit Systems Protection Board whose role is to render judgment on cases brought forward.

 

  1. Upgrade and Update the OPM Qualification Standards: It is time for OPM to actively engage on a policy function it has long ignored. An underlying reason many people, including many veterans themselves, do not support veterans preference is because there is a very strong perception that preference eligibles that are hired are either not qualified or minimally qualified for the job. In large part, this is due to OPM’s failure to maintain specific and strong qualification standards that communicate job requirements clearly and ensure that every applicant that meets the qualification standards established for federal employment are, indeed, fully able to perform in a successful manner in the job.

Tens of thousands of veterans have been successfully placed in positions with federal agencies under the Rule of 3, and there are tens of thousands more who should be placed using Category Rating. But, if agencies continue to lose hiring authority over issues similar to this, the government needs to reassess its approach to hiring, federal HR training and implementation, and ensuring equal protections for all candidates. If agencies have hiring authority revoked on the trajectory OPM is invoking today, not only will veterans lose out on job opportunities, all applicants will lose out.

And the very notion of veterans’ preference, as fulfillment of a nation’s promise to its military service members, will become so controversial it may not survive.

The solution requires more than pointing to a policy decree and saying, “Do that.” It requires rethinking the approach to delegated hiring authority and our nation’s commitment to veterans.

U.S. veteran servicemen and women deserve better. So does the American taxpayer.


Physician, Heal Thyself — Where's the 'Affordable Government Act'?

Linda E. Brooks Rix for The Huffington Post

July 23, 2013

President Obama strides toward the podium and makes an announcement.

“For years, too many middle-class families saw their taxes go up and up and up, without much explanation of as to why or how their money was being spent. But today, because of the Affordable Government Act, federal agencies have to spend at least 80 percent of every dollar that you pay in taxes on mission critical services for you — not on overhead, not on profits, but on you.

“Now, many federal agencies are already exceeding this target, and they’re bringing down costs and providing better value to taxpayers. But those that aren’t now actually have to reimburse you. If they’re not spending your premium tax dollars on services that directly affect you — at least 80 percent of it — they’ve got to give you some money back.

“Last year, millions of Americans opened letters from their government — but instead of the usual dread that comes from paying taxes — they were pleasantly surprised with a check. Last year, tens of millions of rebates went out, in all 50 states. Millions more rebates are being sent out this summer, averaging around 100 bucks each. And for families that are working hard, every dollar counts. It makes a difference.

“That’s one of the core principles of the Affordable Government Act — holding the federal government and agencies accountable so that we all get a better deal.”

The president didn’t actually make that speech. But he could, and he should.

Instead, President Obama used his pulpit and the same language to boast about the 80-20 provision of the Affordable Care Act and how it was working as intended to provide rebates to Americans when health care providers spend less than 80 percent of customer premiums on health care.

But think of the power of paying each taxpayer back — rebating the Treasury — when the government isn’t efficient enough and spends more than 20 percent maximum on administrative costs. If federal government agencies do that, they must issue a check to taxpayers.

That would be the essence of the Affordable Government Act. And if enacted, it would do more to change the way government works than any measure in recent memory just by mandating a reduction in the current level of inefficiency and overhead.

The federal government hires one administrative staffer to support every 6.25 employees. More than 32 percent of every payroll dollar in the federal government’s Cabinet level agencies goes to pay for administrative personnel.

At a time when the private sector has had to cut into bone to live within its means and the government has forced provisions like the 80-20 rule in the Affordable Care Act on health insurance providers, the federal government continues to do just the opposite.

Time for a rebate.

So, for example, the FAA — which drew complaints when it was forced to pull back air traffic controllers and service from smaller airports because of the sequester — has one administrative staffer for every 3.5 FAA employees and one for every 1.5 air traffic controllers. That’s a full 28 percent of its staff in administrative occupations and completely upside-down for meeting mission-critical needs.

In crafting the Affordable Care Act, the 80-20 provision was designed to ensure funds were efficiently directed to the mission, providing direct health care services, in much the same way that charities have an effectiveness measure. Charitable organizations, for example, use this same benchmark as an effectiveness, integrity, and efficiency measure — a nonprofit is expected to disperse 80 percent of charitable contributions directly to the intended beneficiary, while retaining 20 percent to cover operating costs or overhead.

In government, success is measured by the size of your budget and workforce. The government scales with people instead of technology — and that is the underlying reason government is so expensive and carries an overhead that is more akin to mid-20th Century policies than 21st Century realities.

Federal Cabinet level agencies have a direct-to-indirect payroll ratio of 67.84 percent to 32.16 percent — that is, 68 percent of payroll supports the people working on the agency’s core mission, such as delivering health care for veterans, border defense, and social security claims processing. A whopping 32 percent of payroll is engaged in mission support or administrative work. And that doesn’t even begin to address the total cost of administrative services.

To translate that into taxpayer dollars, let’s take current Cabinet-level agency spend. An eye-popping $45 billion a year is spent on payroll for administrative personnel — not including what those agencies are spending on contractors or intergovernmental shared-service agreements.

In the private sector, general and administrative (G&A) expense for organizations with $1 billion-plus in revenue averages 7.6 percent. In smaller organizations, it can average as much as 14.2 percent. In Walmart, the only company larger than the entire civilian federal government, G&A has held steady at 19 percent.

The government’s G&A at 32 percent screams inefficiency and waste.
Curing administrative overload is not a particularly difficult problem. The government should be mandated to scale with technology — instead of people — and redistribute scarce tax dollars direct to agency missions or to the Treasury.

With an Affordable Government Act in place, President Obama could continue his speech:

“Now, even if you don’t get a rebate, even if you didn’t get a rebate there’s a good chance that these reforms are helping you as well, because one easy way to meet the goal of spending 80 percent of every tax dollar on mission critical services is to have you pay less in taxes. Now, we’ve got more work to do to get the cost of government under control. And some of the gains that we’ve made, some of the progress we’ve made in shrinking overhead at federal agencies isn’t always passed on to workers.

“But generally speaking, what we’ve seen is that the costs of running the government have slowed drastically in a lot of areas since we’ve passed the Affordable Government Act. We’ve got a lot more work to do, but administrative costs in government are not skyrocketing the way they were. And because of this new rule, because of the fact that it improves the value of the taxes that you pay, last year alone, Americans saved $3.4 billion in taxes. That’s $3.4 billion on top of these rebates.

“So that’s just one way this law is helping middle-class families. But it represents everything the Affordable Government Act means: better benefit to you, stronger protections, more bang for your buck — the basic notion that you ought to get what you pay for.

“So the upshot is the American people deserve a fair shot. They expect their government to play by a fair set of rules. And that’s why this fight is so important. Our broken government and its associated costs threatened the hopes and the dreams of families and businesses across the country who feared that the exploding costs of running the federal government could cost them everything they’d spent a lifetime building. And step by step, we’re fixing that system.”

If only …

The Affordable Government Act. It’s time for a rebate.


Linda Rix Discusses OPM's Revolving Fund, NSA Surveillance on Fed Access

Fed Access: OPM’s Revolving Fund, NSA Surveillance

June 28, 2013

On Federal News Radio’s Fed Access, Linda Rix, co-CEO of Avue Technologies, joins host Derrick Dortch to discuss the the state of the federal recruitment process, and other issues affecting federal hiring.

Rix will also talk about her recent appearance before a House subcommittee where she shared her concerns about the Office of Personnel Management’s two billion dollar revolving fund.

OPM uses the fund to, among other things, conduct background investigations for federal agencies, and run USAJobs.gov.

Rix discusses whether OPM should offer HR services and whether those services represent a conflict of interest for the agency.

Later in the show, Rix talks about how the NSA leak scandal will change federal recruiting, and she gives us an update on a new website her agency is working on that will help returning veterans find jobs, and fill out forms for benefits.

You can listen to the complete interview here.


Linda Rix Discusses Federal Jobs Outlook for 2013 on Fed Access

Fed Access: Federal Jobs Outlook for 2013

January 04, 2013

This week on “Fed Access“, Linda Rix, co-CEO of Avue Technologies, joins host Derrick Dortch to talk about the state of the federal job market and how it will be impacted this year by the fiscal cliff, budget pressures and other issues.

She also discusses what contractors can expect in 2013, and whether now is a good time for small businesses to enter the government market.

Rix also provides tips for those who want to get a job in the federal government, and what they can do to enhance their chances of being hired.

You can listen to the complete interview here.


Linda Rix Discusses Federal Workforce Issues on Fed Access

Fed Access: Federal Workforce Issues

August 10, 2012

This week on “Fed Access“, Linda Rix, co-CEO of Avue Technologies, joins host Derrick Dortch to talk about the challenges facing Human Resources managers in the federal government.

She discusses what’s ahead for HR managers as they try to deal with downsizing, early retirement, and the so-called “brain drain” at federal agencies over the next few years, and how those agencies should operate going forward.

Rix also discusses a new report that paints a bleak picture of how HR professionals view federal managers.

You can listen to the complete interview here.


Avue Guarantee: We Will Match Any Budget Cuts

Avue Budget Protection PlanBesieged federal agencies have never faced a greater challenge: how to meet mission critical goals, continue to modernize outdated personnel systems, and transition the federal workforce to the digital age amid the specter of spending restraints and looming budget cuts.

But agencies have come to rely on a true partner in Avue, which is proclaiming, “If Congress makes cuts, then so will we.”

Avue Technologies, premier provider of enterprise operations management solutions to the Federal Government, announced today the Avue Budget Protection Plan, a real-dollar savings guarantee to stand with its client federal agencies through any budget reduction in the coming fiscal year.

The Avue Budget Protection Plan is simple: Avue will match any fiscal year 2013 percentage cut in agency appropriations funding with the same percentage cut in that agency’s Avue subscription price.

Additionally, all client renewals by appropriated fund agencies in fiscal year 2013 will have Avue’s four percent fee escalation (per the Federal Supply Schedule) waived.

“We know agencies and their workforce are struggling, as all Americans are, with the current economic climate,” said Linda E. Brooks Rix, co-CEO of Avue Technologies. “And we take our partnership with Avue client agencies seriously. We want agencies to succeed, and those agencies need to know that Avue stands beside them.

“The Avue Budget Protection Plan is our way of stepping up and helping those agencies bridge any budget gaps in fiscal 2013.”

Avue is distributing “appropriations cuts coupons” to its clients, redeemable upon passage of the FY2013 Federal Budget and a reduction in the client agency’s appropriations, which kicks in Avue’s percentage match of any agency appropriations cut.

“Even without budget pressures, federal agencies have been working hard to move to cloud-based platforms, transition their workforce, and bring energy, ideas and new life into government through the prioritization of the hiring of Millennials,” Rix said. “We think appropriations cuts will have an impact on agencies’ abilities to continue to evolve to meet the fast-paced changes of technology and staffing challenges.

“The Avue Budget Protection Plan emphasizes to our client partners: Avue is with you. Keep up the important work you’re doing.”


Mobile apps for government agencies and employees

Avue Co-CEO Linda Brooks Rix joined host Derrick Dortch of Federal News Radio on the program “Fed Access” on June 8 to discuss how mobile applications are being used in the rapidly changing government market.

Rix said mobile apps are helping federal managers solve problems at their agencies — everything from human resources issues to retirement questions.

You can listen to the complete show here.


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Federal Jobs Galaxy

LINDA E. BROOKS RIX FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST

FEBRUARY 25, 2012

Let’s say you’re a Millennial — otherwise known as a 20-something young adult — and you’re trying to get a job and start paying off those student loans. You’re in the Washington, D.C. metro area and you know a lot of folks that work for the federal government, so you decide maybe a federal job’s a good idea.

You go online, and you end up at USAJOBS, not because it hit high on your search criteria (its site rank, as measured in unique visitors by Compete.com, has dropped 116 places since the release of USAJOBS 3.0) but because every federal agency’s career site leads you there. Once there, you are encouraged to post your résumé and search for positions that might be of interest to you and apply. Bingo! You hit pay dirt — a $51,630 to $67,114 a year job that looks like a good point of entry. Plus, you just happen to have the exact degree they are requiring. Things are looking up!

You click to apply and get taken into an online application or you’re asked to email your résumé to a recruiter (and I use the term recruiter loosely).

You wait. You hear nothing. You wonder if your résumé has been sucked into a black hole.

You wait. You hear nothing. You lose interest. You decide the government really doesn’t want you.

Maybe you made a mistake on your application. Maybe not.

You hear nothing. You move on.

Is it any wonder that the results of the 2011 National Association of Colleges and Employers Survey of more than 35,000 students about their employment plans after finishing school showed that just 2.3 percent said they intend to work for the U.S. federal government?

The government’s hiring process has proven as resistant to change as a staph infection is to antibiotics. You can choose to believe in the fanfare and spin from Cheerleader-In-Chief OPM Director John Berry about hiring process improvement, but the proof is in the results. And there are none.

The tragic truth is that changing just a few of things could change the entire bureaucratic culture built around the federal hiring process — and maybe make it easier for a Millennial to want to apply and work here. Let’s just start with the job posting and the application process for now.

Millennials seeking federal employment shouldn’t need a magic decoder ring just to be considered. And no one looking for a job should be subjected to “government speak” or have to wade through an alphabet soup of job classifications and a form of inside baseball while never finding out exactly why their application wasn’t considered.

If federal agencies truly want to recruit and attract smart, technically savvy, highly qualified college graduates into U.S. government employment, clean up the simple act of communication.

It’s the first step toward making federal employment easier. Or else those highly desired candidates will move on, and you’ll continue to wonder why nearly 100 percent of graduating college seniors won’t be considering the U.S. government as the place to begin their careers.

Linda E. Brooks Rix is co-CEO of Avue Technologies. Founded in 1983, Avue Technologies has pioneered smart technology for better management. Avue provides the public sector with integrated technology and service solutions that dramatically increase enterprise-wide visibility and management effectiveness, workforce productivity, and manager and worker satisfaction. In the fight against business-as-usual in Washington, Avue helps power “business-as-unusual.” Avue is a privately held company headquartered in Tacoma, Wash., and with offices in Washington, D.C.


Avue's Comprehensive Technology Provides a 'Soft Landing' for Returning Veterans Who Need Jobs

FEBRUARY 23, 2012

Washington, DC – U.S. military veterans returning from tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other worldwide outposts not only need to find employment upon their return but need to have private industry, federal agencies and nonprofits as ready partners in their efforts, Avue Technologies Corporation Co-CEO Linda Brooks Rix told a packed conference hall.

“What these veterans have done has high value and matches with those employers who are looking for that talent,” Rix said Wednesday to the attendees of the American Legion’s first-ever National Credentialing Summit, held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Let’s make their return home a soft landing, especially those whose training, practice and expertise has been in the military, and those who have had a difficult time translating their military experience into a civilian context.”

The unemployment rate of the 1.98 million military personnel who have served since Sept. 11, 2001 is 12.1 percent, which is more than three percentage points higher than the national average. As reported in The Los Angeles Times, the unemployment rate for younger veterans, those between the ages of 18 and 34, is an astounding 16.6 percent.

But the fight for quality jobs for veterans is not a new one for Avue Technologies and the American Legion.

Their partnership began eight years ago and paved the way for the 2005 creation of the first software platform that provided career matching for transitioning military to commercial and civilian jobs: Avue’s Military Occupational Skills (MOS) Translator.

One of the difficulties service members face when transitioning into civilian employment is how to translate their military experience into related, non-military skills. Many pointed to this “language” barrier as one of the reasons veteran unemployment is so high. Avue’s MOS Translator makes that prospect easier by automatically converting the veterans’ occupation code into related and marketable civilian skills.

An integral part of Avue’s free and comprehensive Federal employment site, AvueCentral.com, and also found on www.warfighterhome.us, the MOS Translator relies on an complete, extensive database of more than 4,600 historical and current MOS codes to provide equivalent Federal occupations, with a complete list of licenses, certifications and training.

“MOS changes all the time,” Rix said, “so you need to have the historical equivalency as well as the current. Some agencies use the same code even after the MOS has evolved. Having that historical record allows the veteran applicant to put in multiple MOS experiences.”

Avue’s MOS Translator allows the job seeker to be positioned ideally in the marketplace and be their own advocate of their skills within the job search.

Avue Central also provides the premier online community and forums for job seekers, who can interact with other applicants as well as industry experts and Federal recruiters. And Avue’s live Chat and Help Desk are positioned to assist with translation needs for job seekers.

In addition, jobs posted through Avue enjoy a broad reach to job seekers and applicants by the company’s push of job listings to more than 1,600 .edu and .org sites, as well as popular social network platforms Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

There’s never been a more important time nationally for this initiative, Rix said, and Avue’s partnership with the American Legion has been crucial in this effort for nearly a decade.

“The American Legion had the foresight to back MOS translation early in the game, and Avue and the American Legion have the same goal: to get veterans jobs in the very near future,” Rix said.

ABOUT AVUE TECHNOLOGIES

 

Founded in 1983, Avue Technologies has pioneered the idea of smart technology for better management. The company provides the public sector with integrated technology and service solutions that dramatically increase enterprise-wide visibility and management effectiveness, workforce productivity, and manager and worker satisfaction. In the fight against “business-as-usual” in Washington, Avue helps power “business-as-unusual.” Avue is a privately held company headquartered in Tacoma, Wash., and with offices in Washington, D.C.


We Paid Dead People Using Paper, Pencil and a Whole Lot of Spit

LINDA E. BROOKS RIX FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST

DECEMBER 2, 2011

Hide your wallet and suspend all reason, because here he comes again.

Expect Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry to make the rounds on Capitol Hill this month, hat in hand, begging for more dollars and resources to fix his agency’s two-decades long inability to modernize the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Nevermind that he pledged to Congress last month that OPM would make any necessary fixes within its existing budget.

Nevermind that OPM has spent $100 million taxpayer dollars over the past 20 years trying to create a solution and failed each time.

Nevermind that OPM has zero credibility in its handling of automated IT solutions or managing the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Nevermind that OPM has already more than doubled the size of its workforce over the past decade through the controversial practice of intragovernmental funds transfers.

Nevermind the facts. Berry’s on his way to ask for the Washington staples of mo’ cash and mo’ bodies.

“Until we get an IT solution in place, we can’t kid ourselves,” Berry recently told a Congressional oversight panel. “This is a paper-pencil process, and it’s going to take more people.”

It’s what Washington does best: throw more money and people at a problem that simply can’t be solved that way.

Pencil, Paper, Spit, and Gas Up the Vans

Want to know how the system currently works? According to documents and testimony from that recent Congressional oversight hearing, not very well.

Imagine, if you will, that your system has a backlog of 60,000 federal employees waiting to retire but can’t because each OPM employee assigned to the retirement system processes approximately 3½ claims each day with an average processing time of 133 days per claim.

Imagine those 3½ claims are simply an average. “Some people are working harder and doing more,” Berry told Congress. Yes, Director Berry, but that means that if it’s an average, some people are doing less. If someone is going above and beyond by processing seven claims a day that means you have another employee somewhere processing zero.

Imagine that your backlog of cases is growing. OPM receives approximately 9,600 new retirement cases each month. And while it processes 7,700 cases, that means each month the number of unprocessed cases grow by roughly 2,000 — doubling the backlog of cases to 120,000 by 2014.

Now imagine a Federal Employees Retirement System and an OPM method of processing claims that involves lots of No. 2 pencils, people with green eye shades, a healthy dose of saliva and spit, plus two white panel vans.

Imagine a system of document sharing that involves a driver of a one white panel van leaving Boyers, Pa., each night to meet the driver of another white panel van on its way from Washington, meeting somewhere in the middle, exchanging vans and driving the pending retirement and other official personnel documents, full of sensitive employee personal information, on to their destinations in Boyers and D.C.

It’s a lot to imagine, unless you’re in a Dickens novel or the Twilight Zone.

These are employees who want to retire but can’t because someone at OPM can’t write fast enough, or their pencil isn’t sharp enough, or they have to keep printing out more forms to write on, or because someone has to gas up the van.

And if you didn’t need more evidence of the Federal Employees Retirement System’s antiquated processes, try resetting your account password.

Upon submitting your request via email, you get this automated response:

“Upon review of your inquiry and providing that we have all the required information, we will process your PIN/PASSWORD request. You should receive the PIN/PASSWORD by mail within 7 – 10 business days.”

Let’s try to understand this.

At a time when passwords from sensitive bank accounts and 401(k) accounts to retail accounts or just about any other account can be reset within minutes by email with the proper process and security questions, the federal government requires 7-to-10 business days, an employee to stuff the envelope and work up the saliva to seal it, and the U.S. Postal Service to deliver it.

And how about that security system? A paper envelope firmly sealed with spit. And maybe it gets delivered accurately. You’ll know if you haven’t received the envelope in two weeks. If not, just submit another email request to start the process all over again.

It might as well be 1911 instead of 2011.

How is it possible to defend funding a system like this with U.S. taxpayer dollars given our nation’s current financial state?

And this is before you get to OPM’s management of the pension fund itself.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Postal Service announced it would stop making payments to the defined benefit portion of the Federal Employee Retirement System after its Office of Inspector General estimated that OPM had taken $142 billion more than it should have from USPS coffers for the trust fund.

The U.S. Postal Service — on the brink of bankruptcy — put together proposals to alter the way it contributed to retiree annuity and employee health benefits. The USPS has lost approximately $20 billion over the past five years and is on track to lose another $6 billion in 2011, so cash flow became important.

OPM’s response to USPS: Pound sand. To change the way the USPS contributes to the trust fund “would have a lasting negative effect upon the retirement programs and trust funds and have little, if any, positive impact upon the USPS’s ultimate long-term profitability,” it said.

A subsequent GAO report found that changes in the USPS share of responsibility for the trust fund and benefits would provide short-term relief from budget pressures. And while it wouldn’t itself change any long-term financial outlook for the service, it could buy the USPS time to look for alternatives.

The Calculator That Wouldn’t Work

To simply suggest, that more money and more people will take care of this problem is short-sighted and kicks the can down the road regarding the larger issue of arcane, antiquated technology, inefficiency, questionable security, and insurmountable backlogs.

It’s 2011. These processes are automated with private sector solutions implemented in government specifically to solve this problem. OPM consistently turns a blind eye to these solutions in favor of home grown, total control, in-house development – what it likes to call a “hybrid” system (“hybrid” because it uses private sector computer equipment and public sector everything else). Commercially available, federal-centric solutions with a proven track record are of no use to OPM. These practical, low-cost, and efficient alternatives fly in the face of OPM’s goal of bigger budgets and more staff.

These private sector solutions can trim the three-hour-plus processing time of a single claim down to less than an hour.

Director Berry knows his agency, particularly after the spectacular technology failures of USAJOBS 3.0 and USA Staffing, cannot be trusted to come up with an in-house automated solution.

And in 2009, he killed OPM’s most recent effort to modernize the Federal Employee Retirement System, a vendor-provided program called RetireEZ.

RetireEZ was a project whose goal had a very basic outcome. Essentially, it was an online calculator that allowed federal employees to project their pensions. By Berry’s own admission they could never get the system to work properly after spending millions of taxpayer dollars.

A calculator. Wouldn’t work.

You can calculate how much you owe in taxes on the IRS website, or your projected earnings from Social Security on its website. There are myriad sites where you can calculate mortgage loans, car loans, college loans, weight loss — you can even go on websites and calculate the day you’re most likely to die.

Calculators are widgets. Not the most complicated of technology, and they provide basic information. Nor do they typically cost millions of dollars to produce.

Mused FierceGovernmentIT, “This is a lesson for every agency about reaching too far in developing a project.”

That sentiment has been reaffirmed several times in the past three years by the General Accounting Office.

The GAO has provided several reports on the state of OPM’s IT management, looking at its 20-year record of IT failures, and finding that the agency simply doesn’t have the basic understanding, the talent, or the capability to run large-scale IT systems — whether they’re in-house or working with an external vendor.

As it related to RetireEZ, OPM’s fourth attempt either in-house or working with an external vendor to modernize federal retirement claims processing, GAO faulted OPM for not developing a “reliable cost estimate for the program.” In fact, OPM’s last revised total life-cycle cost estimate of the program was revised upward from $371 million to more than $420 million.

This finding by the GAO in 2009 foreshadowed OPM’s problems with in-house operation of its antiquated USA Staffing system (and resulting crash in August) and the ill-fated and error-plagued launch USAJOBS 3.0 in October.

Then there is the revelation that under OPM’s management, the federal retirement system paid $600 million to dead people over the past five years. An embarrassment to be sure, but more evidence that the bloated agency can neither implement a program nor effectively manage one.

OPM and government need to learn and practice the lessons learned by every successful private sector company: Do what you do best, and look to others for the rest.

The Real Cost of More People, More Money

At the recent Congressional oversight hearing, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) suggested to Director Berry that OPM bring recently retired federal employees with claims processing experience back into the workforce to handle the backlog.

While on its surface a seemingly sound idea, it may end up costing the taxpayer more in the long run.

How? Because each one of those employees will continue to receive their retirement annuity PLUS a new salary from OPM to process claims. It’s called double-dipping. And often these former federal employees will command a higher salary because of their years of government experience.

For example, Kathy Dillaman, who retired from OPM in February after running the OPM’s security clearance process (and not without controversy), was called out of retirement and given the title of special policy advisor to Director Berry. Not only does she receive her retirement annuity, her current annual pay of more than $179,000 matches that of Director Berry.

But bringing onboard new hires has yet to put a dent into the backlog. OPM has hired 35 people to assist with processing federal retirement claims, and Director Berry told Congress he plans to hire 40 more by rearranging the agency’s current budget.

At the hearing Lynch questioned the director’s arithmetic skills.

“I just did the math on that; that’s an additional 40,000 to 50,000 a year,” Lynch said. “But you’ve got about five times that much that is brand new on top of the work you’re doing already.”

But despite Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) warning Berry that he shouldn’t expect Congress to fix the problem by giving OPM more money, Ross provided the director with an opening to do just that by challenging OPM to come up with a business plan with goals and deadlines to fix the Federal Employees Retirement System.

So when you see Director Berry coming your way, watch your wallet … unless you really want to purchase more paper, more pencils, and more green eye shades.

The technology to fix the Federal Employees Retirement System isn’t a pipe dream. It’s ready to use, right now. It’s time to solve this problem once and for all for federal employees, its retirees and the American taxpayer.


Fact Check: Based on Track Record, GAO Says OPM Can't Effectively Develop, Manage IT Projects

AVUE PRESS RELEASE VIA PRNEWSWIRE

NOVEMBER 15, 2011

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has for more than 20 years displayed an inability to effectively develop and institutionalize large-scale IT projects, the General Accounting Office testified before a House oversight subcommittee hearing today.

While the GAO’s Valerie Melvin, Director of Information Management and Human Capital Issues, said she could not testify as to the recent error-filled launch of USAJOBS 3.0, she did provide a fact check regarding OPM’s long history of IT failures. Melvin said OPM showed it had questionable ability “not only to lead, but manage the capability moving forward.”

Fact check: This assessment would call into question OPM’s ability to adequately fix and continue to operate in-house USAJOBS 3.0, and also any immediate and necessary changes to its retirement modernization system.

“We are in complete agreement with the GAO’s assessment that the Office of Personnel Management lacks the infrastructure and management capabilities to handle large IT projects and sustain them as an in-house function,” said Linda E. Brooks Rix, co-CEO of Avue Technologies.

“It is this fixation on creating a business — completely competitive with better, cheaper and more agile private sector HR solutions — that has eroded and degraded the core mission of the agency, which is to protect the federal merit system of employment.”

Subject before the hearing of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy was “Back to Basics: Is OPM Meeting Its Mission?”

Rix submitted testimony for the record on behalf of Avue Technologies, a company that provides technology and service solutions to federal, state and local governments, as well as private sector companies and nonprofits.

In addition to Melvin, witnesses included U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry; OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland; Pat Tamburino, deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy; Patrick Manzo, Executive Vice President, Global Customer Service and Chief Privacy Officer, Monster Worldwide, Inc.; and Mark Conway, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Monster Worldwide, Inc.

From this hearing, others will be fact checking OPM’s performance as well, including OPM Inspector General McFarland, who announced he would be launching two audits during the current fiscal year looking at the disastrous USAJOBS 3.0 launch, which during its first month after going live crashed repeatedly, was riddled with search errors, caused users to reset their accounts, upload resumes multiple times, and vent their frustrations by the thousands on the USAJOBS Facebook wall.

McFarland’s first audit will look at IT security.

Fact check: OPM’s only recent revelation that cyber-security issues and performance by its previous contractor were a fundamental reason for bringing USAJOBS in-house is an interesting turn in light of its own USAStaffing crash in August, when OPM lost applicant data and resumes for 70,000 individuals. It was also noteworthy that in testimony by Monster executives, the previous contractor testified that no security or contractual issues were raised by OPM or the CHCO Council prior to the launch of USAJOBS 3.0.

McFarland’s second audit will focus on project management, oversight, risk assessment and testing.

Fact check: This second audit is an area that the GAO took Director Berry to task in a 2009 report over its retirement modernization system, RetireEZ, saying, “We recommended that the Director of OPM address these deficiencies by conducting effective system tests and resolving urgent and high priority system defects prior to system deployment, in addition to improving program cost estimation and progress reporting.” Berry acknowledged in his signed response with a pledge that future projects would not repeat the mistakes of RetireEZ.

Director Berry testified that the Chief Human Capital Officer Council, which OPM chairs, identified four points of reassessment concerning the outsourcing of operation and maintenance of the USAJOBS site.

1. OPM will control warehousing

Berry said, “OPM owns the code and the data.” He also testified that with an outsourced platform you get “good data the first two years, but after that you have to pay for every change you make or to make updates. The past four weeks we have been able to update code without incurring additional costs.”

Fact check: Berry’s statement contradicts his early November press conference where he said costs to fix USAJOBS since the launch were less than $1 million. Additionally, the “data” of resumes that Director Berry wants to protect end up in private systems anyway via OPM’s desire for an open architecture in the system connecting to private-sector HR services companies.

2. Protect sensitive information of applicants

Director Berry brought up Monster’s security breaches of USAJOBS in 2007 and 2009 as a key decision point for the Council.

Fact check: Director Berry failed to mention OPM’s USAStaffing crash in August, which lost applicant user data and resumes of some 70,000 individuals. OPM cannot say what happened to this data.

3. Better search functionality

Other than mentioning the reassessment point, Director Berry did not address this further.

Fact check: The search engine still does not work, and OPM had to spend additional taxpayer dollars with Google to index the content on top of what OPM previously paid for the Microsoft FAST Search server platform.

4. Open architecture

Director Berry gave a rambling answer about agencies and private sector companies plugging into the system. He ends up talking about the $100 million-a-year business of HR jobs platforms in the private sector.

Fact check: OPM has an annual $2 billion monopoly on the HR Line of Business within federal government. As a point of reference, that $2 billion equals the 2010 revenue of Facebook. Said Rix: “OPM’s ‘open architecture’ actually gives it a greater part of the back-end system, which will continue to feather their nest with taxpayer dollars.”

From its establishment in 1978, the legitimate role of OPM has been to develop and release regulations and governing rules affecting the management of federal employees.

“It’s OPM’s failures in federal IT — choosing to own and operate in-house powered by a $2 billion annual fee-for-service business, riddled with conflicts of interest, while not adequately updating systems of urgent need like the automation of federal employee retirement functions — that has corrupted that mission,” Rix said.

Fact check: It has chosen profits over performance by developing products and services of lesser quality than those already available in the private sector.

“OPM has a long-standing and unblemished record of developing and operating bad in-house HR systems,” Rix said. “And as much of the testimony in the hearing indicated, there is real fear that OPM will completely mishandle and fail federal retirees in the coming months and years because it has no plan for a reliable retirement modernization system.”

Fact check: It was clear from Director Berry’s testimony that OPM had not developed a business plan for modernizing federal employee retirement, which one committee member warned Berry was a “coming tsunami.” Committee Chairman Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) asked if Berry had created a business plan, and Berry said he would get one for Ross, and referred to it afterward in testimony and the “chairman’s plan.”

Lack of planning and effective project management has led to damning assessments by the GAO and OPM’s own inspector general. And now, two more audits are planned for a website that has failed to operate properly for user applicants and U.S. taxpayers from the moment it was launched.

“We believe the message is clear,” Rix said. “Government needs to get out of the business of developing and owning systems when the private sector and market forces provide faster innovation, greater flexibility and efficiency, and lower cost of ownership and maintenance.”

For Linda E. Brooks Rix’s written testimony, download the PDF

For additional information, contact Avue at (202) 772-1007 x327, or via email at mcook@avuetech.com.

Connect with Avue Technologies on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Avue-Technologies/181658055212984

Follow Avue Central on Twitter at www.twitter.com/avuecentral

Learn more about Avue Technologies at http://www.avuetech.com


USAJOBS 3.0 Jumps the Shark

LINDA E. BROOKS RIX FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST

NOVEMBER 9, 2011

The Obama administration was heavily criticized when its federal job posting website, USAJOBS 3.0, crashed upon launch. After all, the administration is all about jobs, jobs, jobs. Rather than go “cloud-first” — in theory, an administration mandate since 2009 — the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s human resources shop, decided to develop software “by government, for government.”

The result? A monumental digital disaster. Hundreds of thousands of frustrated users. Millions in wasted taxpayer dollars.

So, when the Obama administration needed real, proven innovative skills — in this particular case to address the very critical problem of veterans’ unemployment — it was not surprising to see Monday’s announcement that it had finally turned to private sector professionals for the solution.

Using its “Joining Forces” banner, the administration, Google, and LinkedIn teamed to create a solution to push job information out to veterans via free jobs websites. It pairs with Department of Labor data to push even more information directly targeted to the people who need it most, unemployed veterans. It is called the Veterans Job Bank, which is currently in Beta test mode.

This followed the announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs about its own new jobs portal called VA for Vets. Comparable to the Veterans Job Bank, this site will tailor job postings and other information to a specific audience: veterans looking for work with the VA.

Driven by its control-at-all-costs culture, OPM had to “own” the USAJOBS site and funnel federal job information through a single website. When this single point of failure spectacularly crashed upon launch, the brakes were effectively placed on all federal hiring — at a time when unemployment still hovers above 9 percent.

Weeks later, USAJOBS.gov is still struggling for its digital life.

OPM continues to insist that USAJOBS must be under OPM management. Why? Because there is more than $90 million worth of taxpayer money held captive by this project. This is taxpayer money paid directly to OPM by other U.S. Government agencies — it is simply too high, too tantalizing a number, to let slip away. Despite the assertion on the very day of the USAJOBS launch, OPM and Director John Berry did not “open the floodgates to innovation.” What it did, instead, was expose its failure to grasp the simplest and most fundamental principle of disruptive technology: Free is the new business model.

The way and the degree to which job seekers own and control their own information is where OPM shows no level of competency. Users already find information on myriad sites. They’re increasingly being informed by friends and others in their own social networks. And that information flows freely, is free, and effortlessly expands broadly the reach of its intended audience.

I have long advocated setting federal job information free — actively encouraging federal agencies to use social networking sites and platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, along with a library of 1,600 .org and .edu sites, to push job information to as many consumers as quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

As the Veterans Job Bank illustrates, it is critical that job information be digitally packaged for a precisely targeted consumer, an in-depth analysis based on that individual consumer’s needs, habits, and online behavior patterns. Think of it as “job marketing.” This is no different than any other form of marketing, but it certainly is more measurable, more tightly integrated with business goals today than at any time in history.

The world’s best companies understand and use digital media as the most effective way to capture the attention of the potential employees who will most likely be successful in their enterprise. Those companies’ reach is limited only by reach of the information ecosystem — not by faulty software and data platforms. And the best part is — it’s free. “Free” is a word OPM clearly does not understand.

Organizations skilled at using new media get a very high ROF — Return On Free. In times of economic crisis, the government needs to deliver services to citizens with the highest possible ROF. Turning your back on free is wasteful and shows no willingness to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.

The Veterans Job Bank rides the private sector for its innovation and the digital media culture for its free delivery system — providing smart, specific, and accessible information to the right audience at exactly the right time. USAJOBS, in contrast, saddles users with the responsibility of extracting the right information from a sea of data. It’s everything we hate about institutional software. It forces consumers through a digital corn maze that relies on the user’s labor to make it work. OPM and the USAJOBS team have created a platform so counterintuitive, so lacking in user engagement, that it has no answer but to blame the users themselves.

OPM actually still believes it’s the job seeker’s responsibility to make its system work. Listen to OPM spokesperson Kathy Dillaman’s comments at the agency’s recent press conference.

“FAQs, videos, tutorials … people don’t READ,” Dillaman said with emphasis. “We had to determine with the user whether we had to educate, simplify, or fix [a problem].

“We assumed that people would know the answer to their security questions. It should have been an automated process where if you tried to sign on with your user ID, which did transport in, and you couldn’t reestablish your password, you’d go into those security questions — no human would have to intervene — you’d answer them, you’d get your password, and you’d be in business. The number of people … who couldn’t do it … was astounding to us. In the first few days we had 11,000 help desk tickets of people who just couldn’t get this.”

Her explanation for the backlog of user complaints was that the users themselves did not — despite repeated postings by OPM — remember their password or their three security questions correctly. Dillaman was actually surprised that users did not read the extensive FAQs that OPM posted. Had they, she assured the press, these problems would not have happened.

If this didn’t involve the livelihood of so many millions of Americans, it would be simply laughable. But the cold slap in OPM’s face is a harsh lesson learned from the thousands of negative comments posted on the USAJOBS Facebook wall. Not only is USAJOBS antiquated, it’s killing the government’s ability to attract interest in — much less recruit — the best and the brightest to government service. As the USAJOBS ship slides into the inky darkness of digital has-beens, it is easy to see why jumping overboard is looking more and more like a damn fine idea. There is a saying born from corporate downsizing: The first rats off the ship are the best swimmers.

Congratulations to the Department of Veterans Affairs on being first.

Put in sitcom parlance, USAJOBS 3.0 has jumped the shark. But, of course, OPM can’t go out of business … can it?


Answers to questions about USAJOBS

NOVEMBER 3, 2011

Host Derrick Dortch is joined by Linda Rix, CO-CEO of AVUE Technologies, which runs the federal Job site AVUECENTRAL.com.

They will discuss the problems with USAJOBS 3.0.

Listen to the interview.

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