Patent Office Hid Details of Workers Lying about Hours from Inspector General
The federal government’s patent office has come under fire for covering up abuses in its telework program, in which employees were allowed to work from home with little supervision.
The inspector general for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revealed in a new report that many employees had committed fraud regarding their work hours. The investigation also found senior agency officials had prevented managers from pulling workers’ computer records to determine if they had worked the hours they’d claimed to. The IG concluded that USPTO’s oversight of its telework program was “completely ineffective,” as reported by The Washington Post.
Following complaints from internal whistleblowers, the agency conducted its own probe and sent its findings to Todd Zinser, the IG for the Department of Commerce, USPTO’s parent agency. But Zinser determined USPTO leaders had significantly edited their own report, leaving out “the most damaging revelations,” the Post’s Lisa Rein wrote.
Some of the abuses included:
-An examiner missed 304 hours of work in a year, but was still paid the full salary.
-Another examiner missed 266 hours, but was still paid because her supervisor didn’t access computer records in the case. The woman was allowed to keep the $12,533 she hadn’t earned.
-A Patent Office employee put a “mouse-mover” program on his computer so it would appear he was working. It was noticed by a manager, who reported it up the chain of command, but no action was taken.
-Many employees did little work until the end of each quarter, when they’d rush to complete their required tasks before their deadline.
Meanwhile, the agency has fallen behind on processing patent applications, creating a backlog of more than 600,000 requests. It’s estimated that it will take five years to eliminate the backlog.
The IG also discovered that supervisors at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board paid 19 paralegals to do little actual work.
Charles Clark at Government Executive reported that “the paralegals on the payroll watched television, surfed the Internet, used Facebook, performed volunteer work for a charity, washed laundry, exercised at home, read books and magazines, shopped online or cleaned dishes.”
Some extra paralegals were hired in 2009 in anticipation of the approval of more judges being brought into the agency. Because of a hiring freeze, the new judges began work only last year.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley
To Learn More:
Patent Office Filters Out Worst Telework Abuses in Report to Its Watchdog (by Lisa Rein, Washington Post)
This May Be the Worst Abuse of Federal Telework Ever (by Charles Clark, Government Executive)
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