State May Blow up Human Resources Box

JUNE 6, 2011


Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger infamously promised to “blow up the boxes” of state government when he took office — only to leave them mostly intact and bigger and badder than ever when he exited. But under Gov. Jerry Brown’s reorganization plan, it looks like a few of those boxes will finally explode.

On Thursday a state oversight agency, the Little Hoover Commission, looked favorably on a proposal to eliminate one of the more byzantine bureaucracies in state government: the State Personnel Board and its overlapping counterpart, the Department of Personnel Administration. Together they oversee the state’s more than 500,000 full- and part-time employees.

The State Personnel Board (SPB) came first, having been formed in 1934. It establishes job classifications, determines qualifications and probationary periods, ensures selection by competitive examination, reviews complaints, discipline and other issues, provides consultation on merit issues, administers programs related to federal funding and language services, screens new hires and provides support on equal employment opportunity, among other things.

The Department of Personnel Administration (DPA), which was created in 1981, administers terms and conditions of employment, represents the state in collective bargaining with the employee unions, formulates human resources policy, advises the governor, and administers salaries, benefits, some retirement and leave programs, training, performance and development, among other responsibilities.

A chart on the DPA website attempts to clarify matters by providing a voluminous list of duties for each agency that also shows the muddiness of the regulatory waters.

For example, issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and disabled employment programs are handled by SPB. But long-term disability insurance is under the purview of DPA. The agencies also share responsibilities when dealing with audits, quality assurance, civil service reform, legislation, litigation, minimum qualifications, regulations, involuntary separations and consultants.

As a result, many state department heads with a personnel matter are unsure whether to take it to SPB or DPA. They can find themselves confused and caught between both agencies, which may weigh in with differing information and edicts.

The Little Hoover Commission has been complaining about state agency waste and duplication for decades. In a 1989 report, the commission warned “that the state’s boards, commissions and similar bodies are proliferating without adequate evaluation of need, effectiveness and efficiency. This lack of control may cost the state not only dollars, but also wasted resources, duplicated efforts and the adoption of policies that may run counter to the general public’s interest.”

Further complicating matters, state employees with grievances can take their complaints and appeals to both the SPB and DPBA, as well as to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the Department of Industrial Resources, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, possibly resulting in conflicting rulings.

To help bring a semblance of order to the personnel situation — as well as potentially save nearly $6 million due to layoffs and greater efficiency — the heads of SPB and DPA are planning to merge into a new agency called the Department of Human Resources, referred to as Cal HR by the speakers at the Little Hoover Commission hearing.

“At a time when our budget situation is taking food out of children’s mouths, we can’t afford to have two entities working on human resources in the state,” said Debbie Endsley, former DPA director, who is helping coordinate the merger. “I have a passion for good government. It’s distracting that there are two agencies. By combining staff into one department, a lot of things we do now that are difficult to coordinate will become much easier.”

There is little doubt that the Little Hoover Commission will recommend the consolidation, which would then go to the legislature for approval.

“I think this is long overdue,” said Commission Vice Chairman Eugene Mitchell. “It’s amazing that we have lasted this way this long and shocking. It’s not as if no one has focused on this. This is the fifth time in 20-plus years that the Little Hoover Commission has looked at this. This isn’t news. There are obvious and persistent problems. The California Performance Review identified all of these issues. It was discussed in ’81 when the department was created.”

Commissioner David Schwarz agreed, asking, “What took so long? These issues go back to the ’70s. We haven’t learned anything new in the last few decades and years. Why has it been so difficult to get to a place where such obvious, albeit incremental, consolidation is taking place?”

Commissioner Michael Rubio, who is also a Democratic state senator representing East Bakersfield, responded that the California legislature has an inability to monitor and manage the legislation that it passes.

“What we do not do is look at how well we perform,” said Rubio. “With no one overseeing or determining how well we are performing, you don’t get these types of improvements. We are not getting to where we are consolidating, innovating and improving what we are doing.”

Commissioner Victoria Bradshaw noted that there also has been strong opposition to blowing up the boxes in Sacramento.

“Any time you create something you have people who are vested in the outcome of what happens,” said Bradshaw. “In the case of DPA and SPB, something needed to be done. (But) we have some consolidation proposals go through the budget process and get killed. Twenty committees were proposed for elimination in 2009, and only one got eliminated. One hadn’t done anything in 10 years, but they had stakeholders come out of the woodwork for them.”

SPB Board President Maeley Tom is confident the new agency will streamline personnel issues while preserving agency functions. “We see this merger providing potential cost and staff savings while providing more efficient services to administrators, employees and applicants,” she said. Tom also acknowledged that in the past “there hasn’t been enough openness and effort to look at new approaches and ways so we could operate more efficiently cost wise.”

While the commissioners welcomed the merger, at least one of them, Mitchell, is not so sure it will result in cost savings. “The reason we might sound skeptical is because we have heard these before,” he said. “Often times the savings don’t materialize but the costs go up a lot.”

The details of the consolidation, including where the merged department will be located and how many employees will lose their jobs due to redundancy, will be worked out in the next two years.

Tags assigned to this article:
bureaucracyDave RobertsgovernmentJerry Brownwaste

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