Commerce Department Scolds Employees For Lying About Hours Worked

Jonah Bennett | National Security/Politics Reporter

In response to revelations of teleworking abuse, the Commerce Department has issued a warning email to its 47,000 employees, letting them know that inaccurate time-keeping will not be tolerated, The Washington Post reports.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), an agency within the Commerce Department, has recently been the subject of scrutiny after it was revealed that patent examiners were collecting bonuses and logging extra hours for work never completed. This especially hit close to home for the agency, since the USPTO often likes to showcase their telework program.

In fact, there is almost no oversight whatsoever of the program, even though there are thousands of highly paid employees with a lot of freedom and incredibly flexible schedules. Very few have been disciplined for any abuse of time-keeping.

“An important aspect of serving the American public as Federal employees is to maintain the public’s trust in how we accomplish our work,” Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews wrote to the USPTO and 11 other Commerce Department agencies.

“Employees, supervisors, and timekeepers are responsible for ensuring accurate, complete, and timely reporting of the hours worked in each pay period. There are laws governing the use of appropriated funds, and erroneous time keeping could result in violations of these laws.  Your time and attendance records are official documents, which must be accurately maintained,” the email added.

Tuesday saw the chief government oversight committee in the House launch a probe to determine further abuse of the program which allows employees to work for the USPTO remotely. The stern email from Andrews followed USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee’s voicemail message to agency employees, informing them, “I want you all to know how very proud I am of the work you do every single day. Like every great program or organization, there’s always room to improve.”

“I want to assure you we’re all continuing to work together to maintain the right balance of incentives and tools that have helped make our state-of-the-art telework program the gold standard.”

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