The California Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to confirm Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, Gov. Jerry Brown's nominee to head the California Military Department, which includes the National Guard.
The nomination of Baldwin, who has served as acting adjutant general since his appointment by Brown in April, will move to the full Senate.
At the outset of the hearing, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who chairs the committee, cited numerous financial and leadership scandals, exposed in a series of Bee investigations.
The Guard "has a history of trouble and a history of problems," low morale and "good old boy" favoritism, he said.
Steinberg said a key question before the Senate will be, "do we have reasonable confidence that under your leadership that the California National Guard will clean up its mess and inspire confidence in its operations?"
Baldwin and the senators agreed that his biggest challenge has been reforming an agency in which many rank-and-file members feel that their legitimate concerns are not being heard.
"I have a mandate from the governor to change the culture," Baldwin said, citing his appointment of many new leaders, some from outside California, and improvement of internal financial controls.
Baldwin said he has acted to support diversity in the Guard by appointing women or racial minorities to lead most of the Army Guard brigades.
"Reforming an organization creates friction," Baldwin said. He said some in the agency will resist change, but pledged to continue forcefully in his reforms.
Steinberg raised a 2009 incident when Baldwin, then a colonel and high official in Guard headquarters, refused to give to federal auditors payroll records that could have shown improper pay to Guard generals.
Baldwin said he felt that the request was improper, because any such audit should be conducted by the state.
He recommended an audit to the sitting adjutant general, William H. Wade II, but it never took place. Two years later, a Bee investigation found that Wade had received about $155,000 in improper pay. Wade is now repaying some of that total, Baldwin said.
Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, asked Baldwin how he planned to improve the hiring process for "state active duty" positions full-time jobs that have in the past been treated as rewards for loyalty.
Baldwin called the program "very valuable," but acknowledged abuses in the past. He said he has stressed competitive hiring, and formed hiring boards that include independent members from outside the state to help ensure impartiality.
Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, praised Baldwin for his personal example as a combat veteran. She said it would show the thousands of Guard members who have served in recent wars that they could expect support at the top.
But detractors testified that Baldwin had not promptly or effectively investigated serious, ongoing acts of discrimination against female or minority Guard members that began before he became acting adjutant general. Baldwin vowed to follow up on each case of alleged discrimination and to report back to the senators.
Brig. Gen. Charlotte Miller accused Baldwin of covering up an episode in which some weapons were temporarily lost under his command, and claimed that he improperly favored loyalists in his appointments.
Miller was fired last summer for approving a system that Baldwin said enabled recruiters to defraud taxpayers in a scheme designed to boost their incentive bonuses. Miller denied wrongdoing. In her written testimony, she said Baldwin "ended my career for political and professional advantage," calling his actions "fraudulent and self-serving."
Baldwin disputed Miller's description of the lost weapons episode. He relieved her from her command "for cause," he said, citing "extraordinary poor judgment." He said her case is under federal review.
Among the dozens of witnesses in support of Baldwin's confirmation was Maj. Gen. Frank Schober, who headed the Guard during Brown's first stint as governor.
"You're getting a gold standard here," he said, praising Baldwin's ability in combat, as well as in "administrative and legislative combat."
Steinberg praised Baldwin for making steady and significant progress in changing the Guard. But he cautioned that to "clean up this mess," Baldwin should "take the skeptics and the critics very seriously."