A government watchdog is calling on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to review its policies after an investigation found the agency paid a patent examiner $25,500 for time spent allegedly doing other things, like golfing or playing pool.
The report by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General found the employee racked up 730 hours of “time and attendance abuse,” which counted for 43 percent of the employee’s work hours claimed in 2014. Only a summary of the report was provided Wednesday.To highlight one example of abuse, the OIG provided an online conversation between the employee — a male referred to only as “Examiner A” — and a coworker who, “after spending less than three hours” at the office, ducked out to go hit golf balls.
“OK, did you wanna [hit golf balls at Golf Bar] today at all?” Examiner A asked. The colleague responds just before 1 p.m., “Actually yeah, let’s just go there now.” The watchdog investigation adds to separate charges last year of abuse of the agency’s telework program, aimed at cutting down on the huge backlog of patent applications. During a hearing on the subject last year, PTO officials said they had disciplined a handful of employees and were continuing to implement reforms. But many lawmakers blamed the abuse on poor incentives and performance measures.
The investigation detailed Wednesday started when an anonymous letter was sent to superiors alleging that Examiner A never showed up to work and produced “garbage.” The investigation found the employee’s work dropped off significantly starting in 2012, and that he received the lowest performance ratings and nine warnings in the three subsequent years.
The inspector general said the case “raises concerns” more broadly about the agency’s ability to track its employees. It called on the agency to review its controls to monitor time and attendance of workers. “Despite numerous red flags and the PTO’s internal controls, the agency did not review Examiner A’s time and attendance records to determine if he was claiming time for work he did not perform,” according to the inspector general.
The employee resigned immediately after an interview was scheduled with investigators, at the advice of a union representative, according to the report. The inspector general’s office referred the alleged time abuse to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia, which did not pursue any charges.
The inspector general advised the PTO to explore other legal avenues to recover the $25,500, according to The Hill.