Monday, January 05, 2009

California State Agency Rumor Mill

It now looks like all state agencies will be closing down completely for two days per month, with staff receiving a 10% pay cut. Some state employee unions are suing the Governator in order to stop the furloughs, but it's doubtful they will prevail.

At the California state agencies I'm familiar with, the rumor mill is in full swing. Workers are still trying to get their heads around their 401K losses. Many had planned to retire in 2009-2010, and now they're looking at 5 more years with paycuts. There is no leadership at agency level; all initiatives are on autopilot including big spending plans; executive management is absent from planning meetings.

The executive departments are like chickens with their heads cut off.

Many CA state agencies were set up as independent boards or commissions in order to keep their missions free from political influence. Execs are selected via a process similar to federal appointments: Governor selects, Legislature approves. After 30+ years of existence, many of these agencies are in "mission accomplished" diminishing returns mode, so the work they do is becoming less consequential even as their size and budgets grow. Since their real impact is shrinking, the appointment process has become a political game for insiders, and the Governator has been able to put Bush-style empty-suit appointees in charge so he can have more policy control. Their absence from the meetings is a direct result of a lack of leadership from the Governator himself.

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent article describing the malaise and corruption in California Government:

Last month, the Republican governor appointed former state Sen. Carole Migden to a $132,000-a-year seat on the waste-management board, an obscure panel that many critics say serves chiefly as a landing spot for out-of-work politicians. Ms. Migden, a Democrat, was trounced in her bid for re-election following a series of scandals including being fined $350,000 for state campaign-finance violations.

Mr. Schwarzenegger nearly three years ago appointed his former director of scheduling, Margo Reid Brown, to the board, which she now heads.

Leaders of the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate appointed two other former state legislators to the waste board last month after they were forced out of office by term limits. The governor gets to appoint the four other members of the six-person board.

"It's become a senior-fellow program for favored legislators," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a public-advocacy group based in Santa Monica.
As the budget crisis deepens, look for more leadership and policy failures as the empty-suit appointees flounder, and the capable ones retire while they still have a reputation.


2cents said...

I see *all* agencies in state government headed by former legislators within 8 years unless term limits is changed. Within 30 years, all state employees may be former legislators or relatives of former legislators. In 50 years, you will have to be a former legislator or have contributed at least $10K to a legislator in order to apply for a state job.

Max said...

You'd be surprised. At the lower levels, the nepotism is actually a byproduct of the strict hire/fire rules. Since management can't fire incompetent staff, they want known quantities. Most state jobs receive 500 applications these days. Out of those, 350 don't make it past the personnel analyst, and only 20 get interviews. An application is almost guaranteed to make it into the top 20 if they're a known quantity.

patient renter said...

all initiatives are on autopilot including big spending plans

Hey Max - Can you elaborate on this? Also can you explain the term you use, "known quantity"?

Max said...

Can you elaborate on this? Also can you explain the term you use, "known quantity"?

It's really just common sense. Managers want to hire someone they know will be good. Since government hiring rules are so strict, (every time you interview but don't hire, you need a justification in case you get sued), managers look for ways around the process. It's no different in the private sector.

Darth Toll said...

It's no different in the private sector.

True. I've worked in the private sector for 20+ years at various telecommunications companies and have worked in management. It is difficult to fire anyone (although not as difficult as in the government) and you want only persons known to have a good track record. People that you either know personally or are known to someone you trust.

The emergence of "warm-body" engineering contracting companies (glotel, aerotek, etc.) has allowed some individuals to establish a track-record with management without actually knowing anybody. This is a good thing, imho, but not sure how widespread this is at the governmental level.