Amazon Prime users know what a great deal the program is for frequent online shoppers, but the civilian benefits pale in comparison to the windfall government workers can reap. Take the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It has an "award winning" teleshopping program for both full and part-time patent examiners.
Employees, a.k.a. personal shoppers, can browse from the comfort of their home while still claiming a 40-hour week.
Sure they call it "teleworking" but we know what’s going on. The Commerce Department’s Inspector General does, too. It found employees with the highest number of "unsupported" working hours — can you say Amazon Lightening Deals? — also had the highest number of overtime hours claimed.
How’s that for a cashback bonus?
It’s true these employees may not have been shopping while claiming to work. They might have been watching porn. That’s such a problem among government employees rumor has it when California porn sites shut down to protest a law requiring condoms, productivity in government offices skyrocketed.
We do know whatever these patent examiners were examining during the so-called workday, it usually wasn’t patents.
The OIG performed a 15-month analysis of the time 8,399 teleloafing employees claimed to be working and compared the claims to verifiable data. OIG found 288,479 hours of "computer-related examiner activity that was not supported by relevant evidence." Those "unsupported" hours cost taxpayers $18 million in wages. Although quite a number of shoppers reported "unsupported" hours, 415 were really racking up the bonus points. Those examiners had almost half the questionable timesheets.
Even worse, these 415 had the gall to classify 29 percent of these fictitious hours as "overtime" meaning leisure was earning time and a half.
And to put the cherry on top, the crack USPTO supervisors ranked 75 percent of the 415 timesheet torturers "above-average annual performance ratings" and awarded $8 million in performance bonuses, which is a bit like Ryan Locte being given a medal by Crime Stoppers.
The only way it could have been more brazen is if the time thieves had filed a workman’s compensation claim for carpel tunnel.
In what may be the understatement of the year, OIG concluded, "The findings also suggest that USPTO is paying production bonuses to examiners who are possibly defrauding the agency."
Submitting imaginary timesheets and collecting real paychecks is a chronic problem with USPTO. It’s also a problem not likely to be solved since the teleshopping program has been given an award by credulous reporters who evidently don’t have a patent pending.
Earlier I wrote here how protecting these programs can mean bonuses for government supervisors and pain for taxpayers. Later, after an internal audit of the program uncovered widespread abuse, USPTO "management" had to work doubly hard to ignore blatant violations, which you can read about here.
These shocking figures in the latest report actually understate the time theft problem. Investigators admitted, "OIG generally interpreted the data in the light most favorable to the employees." And as a result "…unsupported hours could be twice as high as reported in this investigation."
Assuming you aren’t an employee of the USPTO you’re probably wondering what’s going to be done? Have the results been referred to the Justice Department? Is a criminal investigation going to be opened? Has anyone been fired?
Well I have the answer: absolutely nothing is going to be done.
I sent a query regarding follow-up investigations to the amusingly named "public affairs" office at the Department of Commerce. The procedure is you get the receptionist on the phone and he refuses to let you speak to anyone. Instead the governed are supposed to submit email queries to a general mailbox and if you win the Powerball the government will contact you.
After a few days of electronic silence I gave the office a deadline and learned that instead of referring my questions to the Commerce OIG that did the investigation, the incompetents sent it to the USPTO, which is trying to bury the investigation.
The response was almost comic in it’s refusal to admit the obvious. Like the Soviets who judged economic performance by the plan and not the product, the USPTO claims, "Over the last two years, we have delivered great results in all aspects of our business." That’s if you overlook the patent backlog estimated to be 490,000 and counting.
As for the timesheets, the office assures us, "It is important to recognize and understand that the OIG report did not focus on individual employees; instead, it was based on a comparative analysis of large computer record data sets."
So evidently the time data was inserted in the USPTO database by the same nefarious Russian hackers that elected Donald Trump.
Bottom line for taxpayers? It’s monkey business as usual at the USPTO.
Michael R. Shannon is a commentator, researcher for the League of American Voters, and an award-winning political and advertising consultant with nationwide and international experience. He is author of "Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times (Now with added humor!)." Read more of Michael Shannon's reports — Go Here Now.
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