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Questions are being raised about an OPM system failure that affected 70K job applications

Reader reaction is still going strong on the 70,000 job applications affected by the Aug. 7 to Aug. 9 malfunction of the Office of Personnel Management application processing system attached to USAJobs.gov.

At FCW, we published an exclusive initial report on the problems Aug. 15, followed by another news article with official confirmation from OPM on Aug. 17. On Aug. 19, we published additional details obtained from an agency official knowledgeable about the events.

We are continuing to investigate what happened to OPM’s USA Staffing system that caused failures in performance, what happened to the job applications, and what actions were taken by OPM and other agencies to resolve the problem.

Questions are starting to arise about the handling of the incident, based on concerns raised by readers: Were all affected job seekers informed in a timely fashion, and did they have an opportunity to resubmit their applications? Did OPM get the word out quickly to the 54 federal agencies that use USA Staffing so that job application deadlines could be extended, and were the agencies able to follow through on extending the deadlines? Do federal job seekers feel they lost out on federal opportunities because of the incident?

Some readers suggest there are lingering problems. For example, an FCW reader submitted this comment Aug. 18: “My bureau never got notice of this problem until today, this morning. The phone is ringing constantly, and people are so mad, saying they are suing us, filing an EEO complaint, calling their congressman, writing the president and other threats. My manager says that we may have to re-announce every job to avoid lawsuits and wishes that the department had notified us when they got the message, but everyone was on vacation in August.”

Another reader said our Aug. 15 story on the system malfunction and lost applications was unhelpful because a deadline had already passed for resubmission.

Please keep in mind that FCW is a news organization, and we rely on officials and readers to provide tips on unexpected system failures such as this. Although the malfunctions and downtime occurred from Aug. 7 to Aug. 11, there was no public announcement from OPM about the problems until Aug. 16, to the best of my knowledge. Basically, no one was talking to the news media about the problems. Some job seekers made comments on a Facebook page, but apparently that page did not draw wide attention.

I learned about the USA Staffing malfunction through a reader who sent me an e-mail message Aug. 14. I am extremely grateful to that reader for bringing it to my attention so that it could be reported as news. An OPM official provided me with an official statement on Aug. 16.

But that still begs a few questions: Should there have been a public announcement prior to Aug. 16? Were all the 54 agencies that used OPM’s malfunctioning system able to adequately extend deadlines to accommodate the job seekers whose applications were affected?

I think everyone, especially in challenging economic times, can relate to the frustrations of one of the job seekers on the USAJobs Facebook page about learning that the USA Staffing system was not working.

“I’ve missed three close-outs due to the outage,” the user wrote. “Help desk sent me an e-mail but no status.”

We would love to hear from more of our readers about what happened with their applications and how this has affected them.

Follow Alice Lipowicz on Twitter at @AliceLipowicz.

Posted by Alice Lipowicz on Aug 19, 2011 at 7:25 PM


Reader Comments

Wed, Sep 21, 2011

OPM is a disgrace. Their misclassification of career tenured employees at IRS - misclassifying them as probationary when they are not - is a crime that causes severe hardship, especially at IRS, with 1/3 of all trainees gone within 2 years, often due to managers' families needing these jobs. The families move right in and do no real probation while they subject others to multiple probations - probations that have become like hell on earth. OPM doesn't follow the law or any of its own regulations - they should be eliminated completely. It was much better when we had a local personnel office and someone you could talk to face to face.

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 Carol

I received notification on August 10th that there was a problem and I had to resubmit my application before the closing date which was August 9th for the job I applied for. I never received any notice and don't know if the job deadline was ever extended for this particular position.

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 Frustrated in PA Chambersburg, PA

I write and post resumes for hundreds of people. During that time frame I worked for at least 10, and often they apply for jobs, if there any relevant, as soon as their resume is up. I have no way of knowing without calling all and asking. Most have no computer or never use email, so someone else, myself or others, apply for them. They won't know of this problem at all unless Dept. of Army at the Depot level has furnished it to ALL empoyees, not just posted it on a board, or sent to supervisors as normally happens with CPO information. I am trying to reach all those I worked on; but in reality it could have been anybody I'd done even well before that time, who applied for a job during that time. No way to know what jobs were lost either so I could guess at who might have applied. Frustated in PA.

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 Jeff MD

I found out about the closure when I tried to submit several applications. I called the HR person listed in the announcement and was told that the system was down and that they (HR) did not know when it would be back up. She also told me that the agency was extending the closing dates of these announcements every day until the problemwas fixed. I asked if they would post an announcement, and she told me no because the agency was not responsible for the problem, I then asked, "So as soon as the problem was fixed, the announcement would be closed by COB that same day, right?" The HR person replied that I was correct. At least she was honest enough to tell me the truth about the situation. I wonder how many people lost the opportunity to apply because of the server being down. Since I work in IT, I wonder how come there isn't a backup site that could have come on line?

Mon, Aug 22, 2011

Hmm, was this an outsourced website? Is this considered accepted risk? Curious what the FIPS 199 impact rating of this application was and if the contractor violated the recommended baseline or if the federal program manager even understood the basics of cyber security and federal laws. I would hope that at a minimum the confidentiality would be high, integrity and availability would be at a the moderate level. Was it on an old system or in a new cloud environment? Did costs limit implementing necessary security controls? Did the outsourcing limit the OPM's continuous monitoring ability? Did the outsourcing cause the necessary NIST 800-53 security controls not to be implemented?

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