Issue Briefs

Following are sections of a GAO report reviewing recent changes and previewing planned changes to USAJOBS, the government’s central recruiting site used both by outside applicants seeking federal jobs and current employees seeking to change jobs.


The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) uses a variety of sources to assess the user experience with USAJOBS, the central website for posting federal job openings. GAO found that OPM’s assessments generally track key measures in accordance with selected government-wide guidance. Specifically, OPM collects data on most of the website performance measures recommended by selected guidance from Digital.gov, including the number of times pages were viewed, the percentage of users who use the USAJOBS search box, and overall customer experience. Additionally, consistent with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OPM surveys USAJOBS users about their experiences with the site. OPM also assesses user experience through usability testing, focus groups, and analysis of data on questions submitted to the USAJOBS help desk. Through these assessments, OPM found variations in user experience across the job search and application process, including variations in how people find job announcements and how long it takes them to complete job applications.

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Since the agency’s redesign of USAJOBS in 2016, OPM has taken a number of actions in an effort to address feedback from these assessments and improve the USAJOBS user experience. For example, in 2017, OPM created a set of categories, called Hiring Paths, that describe who is eligible to apply for specific federal jobs and guide job seekers to positions for which they are eligible.

Other OPM actions taken from 2016 to 2020 include:

• implementing a new process for logging in to the system to improve website security;

• updating job search filters and adding a keyword autocomplete function, which suggests search terms as a job seeker types in the search box;

• revising its job announcement template for hiring agencies to help eliminate duplicative language, increase clarity, and avoid jargon;

• adding guidance to help job seekers complete federal applications and understand federal hiring authorities; and

• highlighting jobs related to COVID-19 response.

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OPM Expects to Take Additional Actions to Further Enhance the USAJOBS User Experience

Updates to Job Application Process. OPM officials stated that a top USAJOBS priority is to complete an evaluation and usability testing of the interface between USAJOBS and agencies’ TASs [talent acquisition systems] to streamline and unify the applicant experience, regardless of which system an agency is using. To accomplish this goal, OPM says it may work with TAS partners and agency staff to determine which information or documents should be collected through USAJOBS and which should be collected through agency systems. OPM officials told us they are gathering quantitative and qualitative data, including reports from USAJOBS user surveys, to better understand applicants’ experiences with uploading and using documents.

OPM officials explained that issues with uploading documents is one of the most common reasons applicants contact the USAJOBS help desk. Department of Justice officials told us that sometimes there is redundancy when USAJOBS collects information that a TAS also collects, including resumes, human resources forms, and veterans’ discharge papers, and that applicants in such cases do not understand why they must provide the same information twice.

OPM officials acknowledged that for some applications, applicants are required to provide the same information or to upload the same documents in USAJOBS and in the agency TAS, and sometimes the agency might require additional documents that are not required by USAJOBS. OPM officials said that they have given this issue a lot of attention and that reducing redundant documentation requirements to enhance user experience is an ongoing effort. OPM expects to continue working on these changes and to deploy incremental changes as part of regular updates to USAJOBS.

Skills-Based Job Matching Pilot. In fiscal year 2021, OPM expects to test a new search capability that would allow job seekers to view results for recommended job opportunities based on their skills. OPM officials told us that they plan to test this capability on its Open Opportunities program website, which offers professional development opportunities to current federal employees, before eventually using it on USAJOBS. In addition, OPM has begun developing and testing to determine how matching algorithms could potentially be used to create effective job recommendations based on entering a skill or job title in a search engine. As of July 2020, OPM expected to continue testing the algorithms by asking users in Open Opportunities to identify their skills using a list of skills from the central skills inventory.

Changes to Veterans Preference Adjudication. According to OPM officials, OPM is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop a strategy to reduce the burden on veterans and streamline the veterans’ preference adjudication process for agencies. The officials told us that USAJOBS will be updated to allow veterans to import data on military service and disability from VA into their USAJOBS profiles. Veterans would review the imported data to verify their accuracy.

This update would also provide for automated assessment of veterans’ eligibility for specific categories of preference. Also according to OPM, veterans would be informed about the positions for which they are eligible, and if they decided to claim veterans’ preference for their application for federal employment, then the results of the automated assessment would be sent to the agency with the job application, reducing the need for manual adjudication by hiring agencies. OPM expects these changes to be implemented during fiscal year 2021.

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Display of Job Status. According to OPM officials, in early fiscal year 2021 they expect to provide a “job status” indicator that applicants could access on USAJOBS at any time after applying for a job. This job status indicator would be publicly displayed on the job announcement page and would indicate the date the announcement closed, the number of applications submitted, the date the vacancy was filled, and the number of people selected. “Application status” is currently provided directly to applicants and shows the status of applications at several touch points, such as “Received,” “Reviewed,” or “Referred.” Agencies would continue to be responsible for providing application status in addition to providing job status. According to OPM officials, the addition of the job status indicator will improve transparency and accountability and provide applicants with updates at each stage of the hiring process.