The State Worker

Blog Back: Vacant positions, state computers

Blog Backs highlight your thoughtful and provocative online comments, amplify points, answer questions, correct our mistakes and humbly accept your warranted criticism.

April 13 – Audit: California departments break law, game personnel system for money

Easily the most contentious story of the week, with commentators split into two camps. Some thought the audit was an official admission of waste, fraud and abuse. Others said the audit (and the Sacramento Bee report that prompted it) were meaningless hullabaloo that downplayed underfunded operating budgets and byzantine hiring practices that force departments to play the state worker shuffle.

Chris Hickman: “If the positions are vacant for that long, it is obvious that they were not needed in the first place and should be eliminated from the budget.”

Jeff Burns: “Unfortunately that’s not the case most of the time, and that’s the whole problem. Let’s say your Department desperately needs a Programmer, for example, and you try many times to advertise the position and get no qualified applicants. 6 months goes by, and now you need the Programmer even more desperately. The answer is obviously not to arbitrarily cut the position under the assumption that the Department doesn’t need it. The answer is to find out why you can’t fill it. But that’s logical, and the state doesn’t work on logic. The state works on perception. And the perception is that if you haven’t filled it, you don’t need it.”

Bruce Walton: “That is quite true. We have had exactly that problem at my department, but it is also true that some departments do have positions that they have no intention of filling. I am not sure what the solution is. Perhaps occasional audits to verify that the department is really trying to fill the position.”

Daniel Amundson: “As a state employee, I have seen this happen more than a time or two. I will agree with Arna Perry, you will not see problems at the lower classifications. The issues persist in the technical areas where a project or assignment demands someone with a specific skill set.

In some instances, I’ve seen jobs go through two separate rounds of interviews and no one is awarded the job. The hiring manager is looking for something so specific, they are willing to go 6-9 months with no one in the position. I still don’t understand why.”

April 14 – Lawmakers consider bill to fix another troubled California state computer system

How much authority has the Legislature wielded to correct state IT projects that go off course? Not much, according to Mark M. Markham:

“It’s the Legislature’s job to provide oversight of spending. We need special legislation to get them to do their job? But recently reported IT bungles bring to light that neither Ms. Olsen nor any other legislator can recognize an IT project in trouble, so why bother?”

April 17 – Jerry Brown appoints SEIU spokesman to CalHR post

Thursday’s announcement inspired both praise and criticism:

Liz Salmi: “Can’t think of a better person for this appointment. I had the pleasure of working with Jim Zamora a few years ago. As a “recovering journalist” (his words, not mine), Jim is dedicated to impartiality and fairness.”

Jeff Burns: “Does anyone else see this as a gross conflict of interest? If CalHR is the state’s representative when negotiating with SEIU, then why would CalHR hire an SEIU negotiator? How in the world is this in the best interest of the state?”

Zamora has not been hired to negotiate contracts. He will handle communications for the department. Also worth noting: Brown previously tapped labor interests to fill a high-level CalHR position when he named Ron Yank the director of the then-Department of Personnel Administration in 2011. Yank, a retired labor attorney, had represented state firefighters and correctional officers. He did bargain several contracts on behalf of Brown.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.