Washington Post discloses internal USPTO report critical of Patent Office teleworking program; next probe: "are the examinations accurate?"
But when it came time last summer for the patent office to turn over the findings to its outside watchdog, the most damaging revelations had disappeared. The report sent to Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser concluded that it was impossible to know if the whistleblowers’ allegations of systemic abuses were true.
The Washington Post obtained copies of the internal report and the version provided to the inspector general, which at 16 pages is half the length of the original.
As to the matter of teleworking:
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.
Oversight of the telework program — and of examiners based at the Alexandria headquarters — was “completely ineffective,” investigators concluded.
The agency’s telework system has served as a model for the Obama administration, which has sought to attract talent by extending similar programs to many corners of the government. In addition to the approximately 3,800 patent examiners who work full time from home, about 2,700 telework on a part-time basis.
While the examiners were under scrutiny, patent officials received a separate referral from the inspector general after whistleblowers at the agency’s appeals board complained that paralegals there were idle. That referral resulted in an investigation that Zinser’s office disclosed in July, revealing that dozens of paralegals, who also work from home, were paid full salaries during a four-year period while they surfed the Internet, did laundry and read books instead of working. The investigation found that managers gave the paralegals limited assignments as they waited for new judges to be hired to handle a backlog of appeals. But because of a hiring freeze, the judges were not brought on until last year.
End-loading was mentioned:
The final, condensed version noted only that patent officials have no policy that prohibits the practice and that examiners suspected of “end-loading” may well have been working throughout the quarter. “Some examiners . . . spend long periods on search and examination because they . . . want to make their actions perfect before submitting” their patent reviews, the document says.
"Big brother" showed up:
The version supplied to the inspector general, though, explained that managers did not provide full access to computer records that could substantiate allegations of fraud because officials did not want to be seen as “big brother” through electronic surveillance.
Investigators found a lax system for monitoring employees who work from home — some as far away as California. Examiners do not have to log into the agency’s computer network or tell their supervisors the hours they work. They do not have to respond to a phone call from their boss the same day it comes in.
The Washington Post atory ended on an open note:
Zinser, however, said the agency was responsible not just for providing “raw data” but an accurate analysis.
He said he did not do his own investigation because he trusted that patent officials had the issues under control. But he said the copy of the original report he was given prompted him to launch a probe of the patent workforce’s quality control — whether its examinations are accurate. His office also is investigating time and attendance fraud at several other Commerce Department agencies.
A relevant comment to the post:
I have no knowledge of whether or not patent examiners cheated. HOWEVER: 1) You can't tell if patent examiners are working by monitoring their computers. That is just stupid. The examiners could be reading printed-out material, and making hand-written notes on it. They could be walking around, debating pro/con points in their heads. Examiners could be on the phone with somebody. 2) Even if you could keep track of exactly what the examiners are doing, all day long, that still wouldn't be proper supervision, because some examiners are simply more efficient than others. They should (and do) get judged by throughput, not by time served. The supervisors ought to be spot-checking the throughput for quality, not trying to play "time-clock gotcha" with professionals.
That's not how the USPTO works. A supervisor does not have to sign an action if he doesn't agree with it. Examiners are on production. If you fall below and stay below, you get fired. It's very clear. You refer to the article, but the article isn't worth the memory it's stored on. Too many falsehoods and half-truths.
You're aggrieved because you don't know how the PTO works. Everyone who knows the workings of the PTO knows that a supervisor makes or breaks your career. It's common knowledge.