Published on The Federalist
Check out the following two recruitment pitches on YouTube. (I challenge you to watch all of the second one.) This video is from the Islamic State, while this video is from USAjobs.gov, the federal government’s employment website. (It’s not encouraging that the latter, released more than a year ago, has just over 21,000 views while the former, released in late-November, already has more than 600,000 views.)
Notice a disparity in passion? The Islamic State’s video grabs your attention and never lets go. USAjobs.gov’s, unless you’re raging on a PCP-crack cocktail, sends you into a coma. True, pursuing an honest career with the civil service isn’t—and shouldn’t be—as riveting as linking up with a millenarian crusade, but the lack of imagination displayed in USAjobs.gov’s 14-minute snoozefest is emblematic of bigger problems.
If 1) you’re Muslim, 2) you desire a global caliphate, and 3) you can reach the Levant, you’re in luck! The Islamic State offers an ever-expanding spectrum of exciting opportunities on the glorious path to Jannah (paradise). The thought of smiting infidels gets you out of bed in the morning? You can become a jihadi; the Islamic State’s armed ranks are growing dramatically! You quietly harbor an irritating self-preservation streak that inhibits your eagerness to use a suicide vest to separate your head and spinal column from your torso? Join the Islamic State’s sophisticated public works apparatus! There are now rewarding openings in road maintenance, postal services, and landscaping—just to name a few areas.
But what if you’re a patriotic American who wishes to fight back against the spread of radical Islam? You can enlist in the military. Yet what if you want to contribute to this vital campaign as a civilian in, say, the State Department or Pentagon? Best of luck! You’ll almost certainly have to enter and endure the Seventh Circle of Hell, more commonly known as USAjobs.gov.
ENJOY THE INNARDS OF BIG GOVERNMENT
From top to bottom, USAJOBS.gov is a dreadful experience. More annoying than the experience itself is that virtually every person who’s ever encountered the website knows it’s a disaster. (Lampooning USAjobs.gov’s archaic interface and obscure terminology is a customary pastime during happy hour at DC watering holes.)
For giggles, let’s pretend for a second that you’re a job seeker who possesses the superhuman patience necessary to bear an extensive series of coding errors, trippy graphic malfunctions, vertigo-inducing font alterations, contrary instructions, and portal transfer failures. You still need to be fluent in admin-speak to get through a USAjobs.gov application. (How do you not intuitively know the difference between an SF-86A questionnaire and an SF-86C certification? For shame!) Given the abstruse job titles and ambiguous job descriptions, deem yourself fortunate if you even apply for a position that’s actually suited to your interests and skills.
To be sure, if you haven’t previously worked for the federal government, you’ll find its language jarring, if not prohibitive. One minor misstep in the herculean undertaking that is a USAjobs.gov application (Darn it! I knew I should have submitted an SF-86C, not an SF-86A!), and you might just be informed of the misstep a few months later—after you’ve been rejected. Also, without an accessible way to evaluate your credentials relative to the General Schedule (“GS”) pay scale, you’ll probably burn hours applying to positions for which you’re unqualified (or over-qualified).
IT COULD AT LEAST BE SIMPLE
Americans who have grown up with the Internet, let alone broadband Internet, are obsessed with efficiency. Online expectations are soaring. It’s been reported that online shoppers switch to an alternative brand if a website doesn’t respond within five seconds. What innovative and intrepid millennial is going to stick through the painful process of completing a USAjobs.gov application?
Drudge Report’s website is retro and frankly rudimentary, yet it’s still wildly popular because it effectively serves its purpose. If you were a sensible graphic designer looking for a job, you wouldn’t apply to a firm whose website looked like Drudge Report’s. Form obviously isn’t everything. Still, USAjobs.gov lacks both form and function.
Without a doubt, this all means that the federal government isn’t capturing as much of our country’s best and brightest as possible. This is deeply concerning. With the Islamist threat facing America, underscored by the terror attack in San Bernardino, the federal government needs to be able to entice top talent. It’s just downright ridiculous that our country is actively handicapping itself.
BUREAUCRAT TYPES ATTRACT THEIR OWN
This all leads to an important question: Who, exactly, is being hired through USAjobs.gov? The answer is, in many cases, the type of person who would not first consider employment with organizations that place a premium on audacity, creativity, deadlines, and competition.
Make no mistake; there are lots of wonderful, upstanding, dedicated people in the civil service. Unfortunately, the federal government rewards and attracts precisely the type of attributes that makes the federal government what it has long been: a bureaucratic nightmare. If you’re into politics, you’ve probably fantasized at least once about Google and BCG teaming up and bulldozing the administrative mess.
A major motivation behind the development of USAjobs.gov was hope for a meritocratic hiring system (i.e., no more “old boys” network). Well, spend a little time inside the Beltway speaking with federal employees, and you’ll quickly notice a trend. It often seems that every one has a family or a close friend already entrenched within the federal government. No wonder they were able to successfully navigate USAjobs.gov’s labyrinthine dungeon.
USAjobs.gov is a dangerous travesty. Too much American talent is being dissuaded from serving the country simply because of a crappy website. To be blunt, serious effort must be directed toward overhauling the entire federal hiring system, not just its website—ASAP. Enterprising members of Congress ought to set up a competitive bidding procedure for the job. Let a few top tech companies and consulting firms run wild. They’ll produce a great product at relatively low cost to the American taxpayer.
In the meantime, we can finally put USAjobs.gov to good use. Rather than waterboard jihadists for intel, we can force them to sit at computers and apply to become Administrative Operations Assistants with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.