The State Worker

The State Worker: Job titles reveal California’s hoarding disorder

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Carbon Neutrality Initiative on the campus of the University of California-San Diego, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, San Diego.
California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Carbon Neutrality Initiative on the campus of the University of California-San Diego, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, San Diego. AP

Gov. Jerry Brown’s 5-year-old plan to remodel state government has run into an institutional illness: hoarding.

The Anxiety and Depression Society of America says hoarders have trouble tossing out junk, struggle with categorizing or organizing and are suspicious of others touching their possessions. As their living space shrinks, they become isolated and can even become physically ill from the hazardous lifestyle.

The state is confronting decades of human resources hoarding as it tries to clean up the litter of ad hoc job classifications added to the government organization charts with no thought of the big picture.

The clutter stacks the system against new applicants. For example, the state has “armory custodians,” “custodians (correctional facility),” “museum custodians” and plain old “custodians.” Then there are two “janitor” classes, including one for satellite wagering facilities. Who knew?

If you want one of those entry-level jobs, you have to apply for them separately. Simplify the system, and job seekers could apply for several at once.

Government HR officials have talked about changing the system for the last 10 years. Brown reorganized state government in 2011 with simplifying the class system in mind. Indeed, the administration has shed 515 titles this year by hauling out unused classifications. Still, 3,300 remain. When the easy-to-change titles are excised, what’s left to cart out will make a few knuckles white.

You have a governor who is making this a priority. The stars have aligned right now.

Richard Costigan, State Personnel Board member

Like hoarders, various groups find contentment in the classification mess they helped create. Unions and governors (including Brown) bargained new classifications as pay raises by another name. Departments added classifications over the years to control their own hiring. Sometimes state law adds new classifications.

Interest groups will have a voice. In a letter to state architectural officials last month, the American Institute of Architects blasted one proposed class change because it could lead to unlicensed staff supervising licensed architects.

Last year, the Department of Human Resources analyzed which classes could be tossed, combined or kept as they are. But like a hoarder clinging to stacks of outdated magazines, the state is struggling to let go. Melissa Russell, who is leading the reclassification project, reported earlier this month that the effort will be done by “the end of 2018” – the end of Brown’s term – although the time lines, she said, “are likely to change.”

Members of the State Personnel Board, which has final word on job-classification changes, were unsympathetic with Russell’s three-year guesstimate. They took turns whacking CalHR’s approach for lacking vision and for leaving the tough choices until the end.

“You have a governor who is making this a priority. The stars have aligned right now,” board member Richard Costigan said, and predicted the effort could stall again under a new administration.

Which would be just fine with some folks who profit from the clutter.

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