There are few things more costly to the taxpayer than a government program that’s given an award or held up as an example for other organizations to emulate. I don’t mean internal government awards for a decade of spending your entire budget or successfully deleting subpoenaed email.
I’m referring to external recognition. Once a third–party praises a government program, it instantly becomes immune to criticism or reform. Case in point is the United States Patent & Trademark Office telework program that allows government employees to work from home instead of the office.
For some reason private sector bloggers working in their pajamas are figures of derision, but a federal employee at home in a union suit is a formidable climate warrior.
Nextgov.com, part of National Journal, has singled out USPTO for praise. In a story headlined “Patent Telework Success” it says, “The Patent and Trademark Office has long been considered a model for other federal agencies when it comes to telework adoption.”
Another headline boasts, “Telework allows 70 percent productivity at PTO during Sandy.”
And PublicSectorView.com gushed, “The USPTOA: a (sic) perfect picture of telework success.”
Coverage like this can be worth thousands of dollars for USPTO executives during annual bonus reviews. Consequently, maintaining the reputation becomes top priority and much more important than making sure the program works. As the monkeys say, “See no evil, speak no evil, guard your bonus.”
According to the Washington Post an internal investigation found, “Some of the 8,300 patent examiners, about half of whom work from home full time, repeatedly lied about the hours they were putting in, and many were receiving bonuses for work they didn’t do. 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, investigators found.”
“Rebuffed by top agency officials…” That’s bonus protection syndrome, because following up might jeopardize the USPTO’s reputation for telework excellence. If the program’s found to encourage fraud and mismanagement it can hardly be setting an example to follow, unless you’re with the Immigration & Naturalization Service.
In the telework program paralegals were allowed to work from home, but under typical federal mismanagement, there was no work for them to do. The Post writes these para–loafers, “were paid full salaries during a four-year period while they surfed the Internet, did laundry and read books instead of working.”
The good news is they used low–suds laundry detergent and many took up ironing for the first time, resulting in a significant boost in neatness and sharp creases during Skype chats with the home office.
Patent examiners, the top of the heap with many earning up to $148,000 a year, weren’t exactly setting a positive example either. The report lists one examiner who failed to turn a tap for the equivalent of 38 days in a single year.
What’s more, he was a repeat offender, yet in spite of repeated warnings, he’s still collecting a taxpayer–funded paycheck. Another woman collected $12,533.00 in salary without any proof she was working, although she did qualify repeatedly for free shipping at Amazon.com.
Another examiner had a mouse–mover program on his computer that made it look like he was working.
No word on whether or not he intends to apply for a patent.
The Washingotn Post found the backlog of patent applications in this beehive of activity is now more than 600,000 and wait times approach that of Comcast’s customer service line. This may be related to a problem identified by the investigation. A “significant” portion of the telework examiners only worked sporadically and then rushed to get their reviews done at the end of the quarter.”
This, too, was sanitized by USTPO.
Their spin, “Some examiners . . . spend long periods on search and examination because they . . . want to make their actions perfect before submitting their patent reviews.”
Exhibiting the same exacting quality standards they now apply to their laundry.
Speaking of washing, when the USTPO submitted results of the investigation the 32–page internal report was a shrunken 16 pages and called the findings “inconclusive.” USTPO management excused the lack in interest in investigating this fraud, “because officials did not want to be seen as ‘big brother.’”
Solution? Swap management with the NSA, then everybody wins.
The cover–up failed when the original report was sent by a USPTO employee that hadn’t checked his integrity at the door. Todd Zinser, Commerce Department Inspector General, says, “The original findings, by contrast, raise ‘fundamental issues’ with the business model of the patent office.”
Meanwhile taxpayers wonder if the trademark of the Patent & Trademark Office will ever be ethical management instead of the current expedient management.
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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