The 25 boxes of paper spread through three cubicles in the California Department of Human Resources' Sacramento offices are rifled by 10 state personnel experts working to solve a mystery.

How many state workers have two or more state jobs? Of those, how many were overpaid or underpaid for moonlighting? Did their arrangements break any regulations or laws?

The boxes hold the clues.

CalHR has put high priority on finding the answers after The Sacramento Bee reported in January that 571 exempt employees -- some of them salaried managers -- also held hourly-wage positions within the same department as their primary jobs.

The 1979 "additional appointments" policy cited as justification for the practice has the precision of a 6-year-old throwing a bowling ball. It's so old and obscure that it exists only on paper.

The poorly crafted policy "creates an atmosphere ripe for abuse and misunderstanding," a recent legislative staff report concluded. A state analyst suggested that some second jobs may have been awarded to boost managers' pay. More broadly, it's not clear whether departments followed state merit rules when awarding positions, such as the requirement that civil service jobs be posted.

Gov. Jerry Brown last month suspended the policy while his human resources branch figures out what the heck is going on.

The administration found 95 departments with salaried and hourly employees who hold more than one state job title, including positions that are in different agencies.

So far, 83 have turned over their pay records. CalHR spokeswoman Pat McConahay wouldn't name the 12 that haven't complied.

"We're working with them," she said. "Maybe it's a staffing issue."

CalHR so far has found about 2,000 state employees with more than one job title, but the records may be inaccurate and some may really have just one position.

The records to piece all that together -- time sheets, duty statements and the like -- are on paper. Hence, the 25 boxes.

This column reviewed a small redacted sample of the documents. They were a complex, disjointed mess.

For example, time sheets, which track employees' time on the job, aren't uniform.

A record from the Department of Child Support Services looks like a spreadsheet with dates running across the top and types of hours -- regular, overtime, leave and so forth -- running down the left side. Cal Expo workers turn in a time sheet that looks more like a day calendar: One column shows dates worked and another shows hours and their categories.

Departments have different workweeks, too. Some start on Sunday, others on Monday or Tuesday.

Multiply those differences hundreds of times and you get a sense of what CalHR is up against.

Lawmakers want answers by May. CalHR says it hopes to meet the deadline, but no promises.

Contact Jon Ortiz at 916-321-1043.