IG: High-rated patent ex­am­in­ers cheated time cards

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Hun­dreds of patent ex­am­in­ers ap­pear to have cheated on their time cards yet were still rated as above av­er­age em­ploy­ees — and some were even given bonuses by their bosses at the U.S. Patent and Trade Of­fice, the agency’s in­spec­tor gen­eral told Congress in dev­as­tat­ing tes­ti­mony Wed­nes­day.

More than 100 ex­am­in­ers ap­peared to have ditched at least one full day’s worth of work each week, act­ing Deputy In­spec­tor Gen­eral David Smith said, adding that the agency, de­spite re­peated warn­ings, still hasn’t fig­ured things out.

The patent of­fice pushed back, say­ing that while a few em­ploy­ees may be abus­ing the sys­tem, there’s no wide­spread prob­lem among the 13,000 em­ploy­ees of the agency.

But the 400 worst em­ploy­ees, iden­ti­fied by sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis, could have cost tax­pay­ers $18 mil­lion in bo­gus pay and ben­e­fits — and that’s a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate, Mr. Smith told the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee.

“I guess it con­firms what a lot of peo­ple think about the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., work ethic,” said Rep. Glenn Groth­man, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can.

None of the em­ploy­ees has been pros­e­cuted, though Rus­sell Slifer, deputy di­rec­tor at the of­fice, said 30 of have been fired or faced other dis­ci­pline be­cause they were flagged for bad work.

The is­sue has be­dev­iled the PTO for years. One au­dit in 2015 found par­ale­gals at the agency were directed by su­per­vi­sors to fal­sify their hours, while another au­dit iden­ti­fied one ex­am­iner who likely bilked $25,000 worth of time in 2014 alone.

That ex­am­iner re­signed in or­der to duck any con­se­quences and to keep a clean record for fu­ture fed­eral em­ploy­ment.

At the time, the patent of­fice in­sisted it was tak­ing steps to crack down — but the in­spec­tor gen­eral said they are still strug­gling.

“There’s still a lot of work yet to be done,” Mr. Smith said.

The Patent Of­fice Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion, the la­bor union rep­re­sent­ing agency em­ploy­ees, dis­missed the au­dit’s find­ings, say­ing it had a “flawed method­ol­ogy.”

Pamela Schwartz, pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion, said some ex­am­in­ers likely weren’t logged into their com­put­ers even though they were work­ing that time. She also said ex­am­in­ers reg­u­larly work un­paid over­time to meet their pro­duc­tion quo­tas, which more than com­pen­sates for the 2 per­cent of to­tal time lost to bo­gus time claims.

Mr. Smith said he could get to the bot­tom of the is­sue if the as­so­ci­a­tion would en­cour­age its mem­bers to vol­un­tar­ily talk to his in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“We would be more than happy to in­ter­view these em­ploy­ees,” he said.

He said they’ve come across on­line in­for­ma­tion where some ex­am­in­ers ad­mit­ted they com­plete their work in less time than their su­pe­ri­ors al­lot — but they claim the full time as worked.

Mr. Slifer said he wasn’t will­ing to trust that in­for­ma­tion, and in­sisted they don’t have a prob­lem.

“I know that our ex­am­in­ers are work­ing. I know, look­ing at our pro­duc­tion re­quire­ments,” he said.

“I guess it con­firms what a lot of peo­ple think about the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., work ethic.”

— Rep. Glenn Groth­man, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can


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