Agency Employee Shift Lacked Approval

January 25, 2011 - By admin

JAN. 25, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

At a hearing riddled with government-acronyms on Monday at the Capitol, one state agency sought permission for a move it had already made, in a hearing where the outcome seemed pre-determined.

In order to shift several IT employees to another department, “the DFEH entered into an MOU with DGS,” according to Phyllis Cheng, Department of Fair Employment and Housing director. But the move was meant as a CYA apparently, since before getting permission from the Legislature, the move was made.

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee received a request from the fair employment and housing agency for permission to shift five Information Technology employees to the Department of General Services, thereby reducing its operating budget. Except, the employees had already been moved to the general services department, making the legislative permission granting, after the fact.

The DFEH, referred to as the largest state civil rights agency in the nation, had an information technology department of 10 employees. Cheng said that they wanted to move the IT employees to DGS since “we are a very small agency not in the IT business.” The DFEH eliminated five of the positions, saving the department $300,000, and transferred another five into the IT department at general services, along with $507,000 for the employee’s salaries.

Making the shift more complicated, the DFEH had two vacant positions in its IT department as part of the five eliminated. Cheng appeared at the budget committee hearing to ask for permission to convert two of the vacant positions into two “limited-term” positions in the Special Investigations Unit of the DFEH to manage anticipated workload resulting from an “historic class action settlement with Verizon,” that the department recently won, according to Cheng. “I need two people to work on this as legal analysts.”

But not everyone at the hearing was in agreement with this arrangement. Farra Bracht with the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended that the committee reject the decision to transfer the employees and eliminate the positions at the DFEH, and require the general services department to justify the new positions. “It doesn’t seem to equate to efficiency,” said Bracht.

Bracht further recommended that the DFEH monitor the volume of additional workload from the class action lawsuit, and by mid-February, the committee could make a decision about approving the remaining two employees.

Bracht wanted to know if the additional IT employees were really needed at DGS, or if the general services agency could absorb the additional IT work needed by the DFEH.

With that, Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, recommended adopting the LAO’s proposal.

But again, not everyone at the hearing was in agreement with this arrangement.

A representative from the SEIU was upset that the employees had already been moved to the general services department, and said that the move should not be undone.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, added, “If the people and positions have moved, it doesn’t make sense to jeopardize the people transferred.” Dickinson said that he was banking on the Verizon claims keeping the department busy, and “claimants deserve to have claims cleared up quickly.”

“If the department made the move ahead of the committee and legislative action, maybe they should be moved back,” said newly elected Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine. He also recommended waiting to see how many Verizon class action claims appeared before making staffing recommendations.

Wagner also supported adoption of the LAO’s recommendations, describing it as “the most prudent course.”

But once again, not everyone was in agreement. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, appeared to want to support the DFEH and DGS requests, and challenged the LAO. “The LAO seems to be saying ‘wait until it fails,’” said Buchanan. “I am bothered by your ‘wait and see’ … they’ve already cut positions.”

“We are just saying ‘hold the positions open,’” repied Bracht. “Let DGS apply for the positions.”

The motion by Logue to support the LAO’s recommendation was voted down 3-2 by the committee. Dickinson’s replacement motion to adopt the proposal to allow the positions to move to DGS from the DFEH was passed, 3-2, with Logue and Wagner voting no.

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