Washington Post reports US Patent Office initiating review of telework in response to Congressional inquiry
Commerce and patent office officials told congressional investigators Friday [Sept. 12, 2014] they have launched an internal review of the telework program and are seeking an outside consulting firm to advise them on how managers can improve their monitoring of more than 8,000 patent examiners, according to a congressional aide familiar with the briefing before staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Among the issues the outside consultant will be asked to address is whether, in their zeal to increase the productivity of examiners in recent years to shrink a backlog of applications, patent office leaders were too quick to give employees bonuses for work they didn’t complete.
As to the telework program, some changes have already been implemented:
[Todd] Elmer said the patent office has now implemented “new requirements” for all teleworkers and given managers new tools to identity potential abuse “and take appropriate actions.” His statement did not give details of the changes, but patent office officials told congressional staff on Friday that they now require examiners who work remotely to log into the agency’s internal computer network so their bosses can communicate with them.
There was a dispute about the charge of end-loading:
More than 70 percent of the 80 managers interviewed told the internal review team that a “significant” number of examiners did not work for long periods, then rushed to get their reviews done at the end of each quarter. The supervisors were concerned that the practice negatively affected the quality of the work.
But on Friday, the officials said many examiners are actually working in the early weeks of the quarter, doing research or speaking with inventors applying for patents. This legwork does not show up in the computer that measures whether they are getting their work done, they told congressional investigators.