The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office wasted over $5 million overpaying paralegals to do very little work, a new report from the Office of the Inspector General shows.
“Our investigation uncovered substantial, pervasive waste at the PTAB [Patent Trial and Appeal Board] that endured for more than four years and resulted in the misuse of federal funds totaling at least $5.09 million,” the report reads.
The OIG began its investigation after receiving anonymous complaints that paralegals employed by the Patent Office were being paid for not working at least since 2010.
“The complaints alleged that the Paralegal Specialists logged ‘non-production time’ when not working and were logging 50 to 70 hours of such time per 80-hour pay period,” begins the damning report. “At the time, the PTAB carried an extensive backlog of cases, averaging 21,200 matters waiting disposition from Fiscal Years 2009 through 2013.”
The investigation found that “many [paralegals] were frequently paid to do nothing, despite the fact that PTAB’s backlog was growing rapidly at the same time,” and that managers and senior personnel, though aware of the situation, did nothing to change it.
“The problem grew so bad that the PTAB used a separate billing code for Paralegal Specialists to charge those non-productive hours–‘Other Time.’ One Senior Manager described Other Time as the ‘I don’t have to work but I’m going to get paid code.'”
The OIG dug into just what these employees were doing during “other time” — some highlights include doing laundry, going on Facebook, watching television, exercising at home, washing dishes, shopping online, and reading magazines. Impressed by their paralegals’ productivity, Patent Office managers handed out performance bonuses in the thousands.
“Although the Other Time problem was widely known throughout the PTAB organization, no one seemed to take ownership of the issue,” the report says. “In the worst cases, paralegals seemed content to have extensive idle time while collecting full salaries and benefits, and PTAB management seemed to sit on their hands… Any reasonable person should know that extreme non-productivity for such extended periods of time is not acceptable, especially for a federal employee whose wages are paid by the public.”
According to the Patent Office’s “Performance and Accountability Report” for FY 2013, it was “named number one out of 300 agency subcomponents in the 2013 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings released by the non-profit Partnership for Public Service.”
While the OIG report did make several recommendations, including that the Patent Office recover the unearned performance bonuses, it did not call for any employees to be fired or for legal action to be taken.