Report: Patent Office Sweeps Telecommuting Abuses Under Rug

Monday, 11 Aug 2014 06:22 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Whistleblower complaints that patent office employees working from home grossly abused the privilege were deleted from a report the agency forwarded for follow-up investigation, The Washington Post reported.

"What we hoped to see was an unfiltered response," Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser told the Post. "That's not what this was. It's a lot less sensational. The true extent of the problem was not being conveyed to us."

Frederick Steckler, chief administrative officer of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said a February 2013 report based on whistleblower allegations of telework abuse by his examiners was substantially edited before submission to the Commerce Department IG because "many of the conclusions" were "partial and unsupported by the facts," the Post reported.

There are 8,300 patent examiners, with about half working from home full time while 2,700 do so on a part-time basis.

The report presented to the IG acknowledged that arrangements with unions had left supervisors with little leverage to manage their staff. The original report spoke of a culture of fraud that left front-line supervisors frustrated.

The 2013 probe discovered that a "significant" number of examiners allowed their work to bunch up and then rushed to complete it by their quarterly deadline. Managers defended the practice as reflecting a desire by examiners to make their patent reviews "perfect before submitting."

The report to the IG does note that managers have no way of knowing when their employees are logged into the agency's computers or what they are doing in real time.

Workers do not have to respond the same day to phone calls from their supervisors.
There are "no consequences" for employees who underperform, the original report said.

The agency has a five-year processing backlog of about 600,000 patent applications, the Post said. The patent office work-from-home system has become a prototype for the Obama administration, the Post reported.

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