The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a program that allows its patent examiners to work from home. The results of an investigation into the efficacy of that practice, sprung from multiple complaints, has now revealed that a lot of those employees have routinely lied about the number of hours they’ve worked, and they have even received bonuses for work that was never done.
Sounds like a government program alright.
The internal investigation, done by a special Patent Office “task force,” reveals employees falsely logged time when they had not been working, massaged work dockets to receive unearned bonuses and “mortgaged” their work by “submitting incomplete work for credit before the end of a bi-week [pay period] and then going in after the bi-week to submit valid work.”
The Washington Post reported Sunday that top officials at the Patent Office had even stymied past attempts by the employees’ supervisors to investigate the allegations.
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.
From the “Time Fraud” portion of the Patent Office’s memo, the report on which The Post based its story:
d. The agency is not policing or monitoring abuse of timesheets.
e. Conduct issues and time fraud are routinely overlooked as long as an examiner’s production levels are acceptable.
f. There is a lack of accountability for Patent Examiners participating in the Hoteling [work from home] Program.
g. Unnamed Patent Examiners are receiving overtime pay for time they are not working.
h. Management is dissuading supervisors from questioning employees about time and attendance discrepancies.
It goes on and on like that.
The Patent Office appears to have redacted the worst examples of employee abuse from the version of the report it eventually delivered to the Commerce Department inspector general last year. “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,” the story observes.
Meanwhile, the Patent Office has amassed a backlog of patent applications “swelling to more than 600,000 and estimated waiting times of more than five years,” according to The Post. The Patent Office employs 11,627 people.