Patent telework program invites abuse, watchdog says
WASHINGTON — A top government investigator told lawmakers Tuesday that a lax culture at the Patent and Trademark Office “tolerates” serious employee abuses, including fraudulent claims by patent examiners about the hours they put in when they work from home.
In testimony before a House hearing, Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser said the agency’s award-winning telework program — under which about half the 8,300 patent examiners work from home — has a dark side, because managers are prevented from punishing employees who abuse the freedom they have.
Zinser offered his assessment at a rare joint hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, which are looking into wrongdoing discovered last year during an internal investigation.
Zinser said his office is investigating a dozen fresh reports of fraud by patent examiners. One case allegedly involves an examiner who claimed more than 300 hours of work but was not fired. Another examiner allegedly falsified time and attendance records at a cost to the government of more than $24,000. In other cases, examiners’ violations were reported by lower-level supervisors, then “disregarded by more senior management.”