Feds Steal $18 Million In Telework Scam, But Were They All Punished?

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A nonprofit government watchdog group is requesting a federal agency hand over disciplinary records on a scam that fraudulently paid $18 million to government employees.

Cause of Action Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request Tuesday for records showing whether disciplinary action was taken against Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) employees who abused their telework privileges and were paid for nearly 300,000 unsupported work hours over a 15-month period. (RELATED: Patent Office Bills Taxpayers For 300,000 Hours Of Work They Never Did)

“Such rampant abuse is particularly concerning given the USPTO’s policies to promote more telework for its employees,” Cause of Action Institute Assistant Vice President Henry Kerner said in a statement. “Over the last decade, the agency has doubled its number of patent examiners largely through teleworking. The American people deserve to understand whether disciplinary action has been taken to hold employees accountable for telework fraud.”

The Department of Commerce Inspector General reported the telework scam in August. Approximately half of USPTO’s 12,600 employees telework full-time without reporting to a physical office, according to the watchdog. (RELATED: Senior Federal Officials Cover-Up Troublesome Union Policy)

USPTO “ordered counseling, sent letters of reprimand, terminated wrongdoers and collected money from them for hours they did not work,” The Washington Post reported in September.

But the IG report did not include the total number of employees participating in the teleworking scam, and USPTO Director Michelle Lee refused to give a congressional committee the exact number.

“Unsurprisingly, the [IG’s] report coincides with patent examiners facing an all-time high patent backlog,” the FOIA request said. “The total unsupported hours highlighted by the [IG’s] report would have reduced the patent backlog by 15,990 cases.”

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