Patent Office Cooperating with Probe Into Telecommuting Abuses

Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 09:55 AM

By Andrea Billups

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A spokesman for the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office says it is cooperating fully with an investigation into possible fraud and waste by employees abusing its work-from-home policy, The Hill reported.

The agency "welcomes this opportunity to demonstrate that the agency’s award-winning telework programs ... have been integral to the USPTO’s dramatic, quantifiable progress in fulfilling its core functions of reducing the backlog of patent applications and the wait time for applicants," USTPO spokesman Todd Elmer said in a statement released Wednesday.

His remarks came after a Washington Post report on a Commerce Department audit uncovered abuse of the department's telework policy that occurred after multiple whistleblowers complained.

About half of the office's 8,300 employees work from home. Some of those workers, according to the audit, "repeatedly lied about the hours they were putting in, and many were receiving bonuses for work they didn’t do," the Post reported of the investigation.

"And when supervisors had evidence of fraud and asked to have the employee’s computer records pulled, they were rebuffed by top agency officials, ensuring that few cheaters were disciplined," the audit noted.

The USTPO defended its workers and policy, adding that it had cut down on its patent backlog and helped inventors get their products to market more quickly.

But U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who heads the House Oversight Committee, said he wants more information and has asked Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to turn over more documentation surrounding an internal audit that was reportedly "scrubbed" before a final version was offered to the department's Inspector General, according to The Blaze.

Issa is seeking emails and other internal communication documents at the department as he continue his probe, citing the Post investigation's findings.

“The Posts’s report comes at a time when examiners are apparently falling behind on one of the core functions of the agency,” Issa noted in his letter to Pritzker. “The USPTO reportedly has a backlog of patent applications of over 600,000 and an approximate wait time of more than five years.”

“Despite patent examiners generally receiving salary at the top of the federal pay scale — some making $148,000 a year — it appears the telework program is not serving its intended purpose to produce more efficiency,” he wrote.

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