Darrell Issa to Investigate “˜Do-Nothing’ Patent Office Employees

Move over, IRS. Darrell Issa has a new enemy.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) strikes the gavel at the beginning a House Oversight Committee hearing concerning the security of the Healthcare.gov website, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. During the hearing, Teresa Fryer, chief information security officer and director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' Enterprise Information Security Group, told the committee she would now recommend full operational and security certification for the Healthcare.gov website. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Aug. 20, 2014, 9:10 a.m.

House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa is launch­ing an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the U.S. Pat­ent and Trade­mark Of­fice after re­ports sur­faced in­dic­at­ing em­ploy­ees routinely do “little to no work” by ab­us­ing the agency’s gen­er­ous tele­work policies.

In a let­ter to Com­merce Sec­ret­ary Penny Pritzker sent Tues­day, Issa asked the Pat­ent Of­fice to re­spond to a series of ac­count­ab­il­ity ques­tions fol­low­ing an ex­plos­ive Wash­ing­ton Post art­icle that “de­scribes nu­mer­ous in­stances of mis­con­duct and ap­par­ent ef­forts by of­fi­cials to con­ceal wrong­do­ing.”

“The waste, fraud, ab­use, and mis­man­age­ment de­scribed by The Post is un­ac­cept­able, ” Issa wrote. Echo­ing a fa­mil­i­ar com­plaint lobbed against the agency, the Cali­for­nia Re­pub­lic­an fur­ther con­demned the agency’s al­leged ab­uses for com­ing at a time when the of­fice has a “back­log of pat­ent ap­plic­a­tions of over 600,000, and an ap­prox­im­ate wait time of more than five years.”

“Des­pite pat­ent ex­am­iners gen­er­ally re­ceiv­ing salary at the top of the fed­er­al pay scale—some mak­ing $148,000 a year—it ap­pears the tele­work pro­gram is not serving its in­ten­ded pur­pose to pro­duce more ef­fi­ciency,” he wrote.

Earli­er this month, The Post re­por­ted on the find­ings of a full in­tern­al re­port con­duc­ted by the Pat­ent Of­fice that painted a much more damning pic­ture than an ed­ited ver­sion provided to an out­side watch­dog.

Among the in­tern­al in­quiry’s find­ings, some 8,300 pat­ent ex­am­iners, roughly 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,” ac­cord­ing to The Post.

The in­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tion wrapped up last sum­mer, but the ver­sion of the re­port sent to Com­merce De­part­ment In­spect­or Gen­er­al Todd Zin­ser con­cluded it was dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain wheth­er whistle-blower claims of sys­tem­ic ab­uses were val­id. Al­tern­at­ively, the un­scrubbed re­port, kept secret un­til The Post re­port, is far more defin­it­ive in its find­ings of an un­checked cul­ture of fraud and ab­use.

In his let­ter, Issa com­pared the re­por­ted wrong­do­ing to a 2012 scan­dal in­volving the Gen­er­al Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which held a con­fer­ence in Las Ve­gas that in­cluded waste­ful ex­penses on things such as the hir­ing of a clown and a $75,000 team-build­ing ex­er­cise. Re­ports of pat­ent ex­am­iners be­ing paid while surf­ing the In­ter­net and do­ing laun­dry at home “be­cause man­agers gave lim­ited as­sign­ments … calls in­to ques­tion the busi­ness mod­el of the pat­ent of­fice,” Issa wrote.

Issa re­ques­ted the agency hand over “all doc­u­ments and com­mu­nic­a­tions, in­clud­ing emails” rel­ev­ant to re­por­ted ab­uses by Sept. 2.

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