Personnel: The LA City Department the Others Love to Hate

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-Los Angeles has a Personnel department that the rest of the City’s departments love to hate. It is blamed for all hiring problems and is a convenient scapegoat for many related problems. 

Certainly, it has a hand in a lot of these but will giving hiring responsibilities back to the individual departments actually help? 

The Personnel Department is tasked with: 

  • classifying all civil service positions and assigning appropriate titles 
  • recruiting employees 
  • holding competitive examinations 
  • establishing lists of qualified candidates eligible for employment in both civilian and sworn (LAPD and LAFD) positions 
  • setting rules and regulations governing the appointment, promotion, transfer, and removal of City employees 
  • establishing and enforcing risk management guidelines 

With a City workforce now exceeding 50,000, while the benefits of controlling their hiring needs might appear to make sense to individual departments, it is clear that the mission of Personnel is much more complicated than interviewing a few applicants and adding them to the payroll. 

Furthermore, their hands are tied by a plethora of restrictions (some set by the unions to ensure fairness), futile attempts at standardization in a rapidly evolving labor market, and the unwieldy civil service system. 

The Personnel Department also: 

  • provides centralized human resources support for 24 City Departments 
  • enhances the City’s workforce by promoting career development 
  • oversees the City's Rideshare and Workplace Safety Programs 
  • administers employee benefits 
  • investigates and hears discrimination complaints and disciplinary action appeals 
  • conducts pre-employment medical examinations and conducts health risk appraisals 
  • administers the workers' compensation program 

Just because a department doesn’t get who they want when they want them doesn’t mean Personnel isn’t working on their behalf. 

Along with budget and approvals, there are a lot of factors in play including competition from other jurisdictions offering more pay or better benefits, a rapidly changing employment landscape which has made aligning salaries and job classifications more difficult, and the dictates from the City Council. 

And then there is the long-standing practice throughout the City of budgeting positions that are not actually needed which can then be used for necessary expenses that the Budget & Finance Committee did not approve, or to cover unexpected costs (think COVID), and to give back to the City next year when the Mayor demands the department cut their budget while increasing services. 

The Personnel Department had both staff and tools eviscerated in the wake of the Great Recession, but over the years the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates have been meeting with them, there has been significant improvement in expanding its recruitment, expediting testing and aligning their goals with those of the departments. 

During the last year, the department: 

  • tested 16,000 candidates by computer (Anytime/Anywhere Remote testing) 
  • hired over 500 people from the vulnerable and underserved populations in targeted geographical areas around City Hall as part of the LA Local Hire Program which provides 6 months of training followed by 6 months on the job 
  • successfully rolled-out MyVoiceLA, a program that allows employees to anonymously report misconduct or harassment

Probably as an adjunct to its risk management activities, the Personnel Department has been responsible for providing medical care for people in custody of the Police Department. This has nothing to do with its other services and should be moved to a more appropriate jurisdiction to allow the department to focus more resources on its core functions. 

Current concerns of the department include: 

  • allowing ample time and resources for first responders to plan for the 2028 Olympics 
  • improving employee security, especially for those who work in the downtown area where rampant homelessness has impacted safety on the streets 
  • working with other departments to develop a new Human Resources system to better align employee salaries and benefits with sufficient specificity in their guidelines to fund the necessary technology 

If they are not already doing so, the latter work must be done in conjunction with the City’s IT department to ensure that the new system meshes seamlessly with the existing infrastructure or there will be costly ramifications. 

The Personnel Department still faces challenges from the sclerotic bureaucracy that has built up over decades, as well as departments trying to wrest control of the hiring process away from Personnel. All that would do would be to create more duplication of services and amplify the real problems in today’s employment environment.  

The Personnel Department has the real expertise to respond to these complex problems and, in the wake of the pandemic, to pivot and take advantage of the opportunity such an event creates. 

Every City department deserves high-caliber employees and the Personnel Department is there to make that happen. But this must be in conjunction with meaningful consultation on all sides so the best people are recruited and in a timely manner. 

Should the City invest in a blue-ribbon panel to evaluate an improved organizational structure for the City and its governance including input from the Personnel Department and addressing their challenges? 

Only if they are willing to act on them.


(The Budget Advocates are an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.