Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown christened an overhaul of the state's personnel system, aiming to correct the wandering course of a government beset with arcane, conflicting rules that confound even the most experienced human resources managers.
Now that overhaul faces a very public test with the state's probe into "additional appointments."
Several agencies have cited the obscure 34-year-old policy as justification for giving salaried managers and supervisors secondary jobs that pay an hourly wage. The policy is so old that it exists only on paper. It's confusing, imprecise and desperately needs updating.
There are probably dozens - maybe hundreds - of similar personnel rules and regulations that departments - those that know about them, anyway - read and apply differently.
It's more than a mere policy-wonk problem. Unclear personnel rules leave room for honest mistakes or for personnel managers to pick and choose which policies they want to follow.
At worst, ambiguity allows unscrupulous actors to abuse the system.
Cronyism. Nepotism. Pick your ism. Without clear rules and accountability, loose personnel practices can mushroom.
"The lack of a clear, updated policy is effectively a non-policy" and leaves room for fraud and abuse, a recent legislative committee analysis concluded about additional appointments.
More broadly, an archaic, dysfunctional state government personnel system hurts everyone.
"Calcified personnel practices that were intended to measure 'merit' discourage highly qualified people from applying for and landing state jobs," the independent, bipartisan Little Hoover Commission concluded eight years ago.
Brown's government reorganization is supposed to apply a machete to the tangled policy vines that have grown over the state's personnel rules over the decades. Then, with clear regulations in place, the departments will be more accountable. The simple stuff, like hiring efficiently, will get easier.
"We need to come up with a sensible system," said Suzanne Ambrose, executive director of the State Personnel Board, which oversees state civil-service merit issues.
The cornerstone of Brown's vision eliminated regulatory overlaps between the constitutionally established board and what is now the Department of Human Resources, which acts as the governor's labor-relations arm.
In the past, the agencies fought like cats in a burlap sack, their dysfunction symbolic of the state's personnel rules.
Now the departments are cooperating on the additional appointments investigation. Lawmakers have asked them to issue a report with recommendations in time for Brown's revised 2013-14 budget plan in May.
Will it become just another stack of paper destined to gather dust on a shelf somewhere?
Or will it symbolize a course correction for the U.S.S. Bureaucracy?