Performance is agency's trademark
- By Colleen O'Hara
- May 01, 2000
Work force- and technology- related changes at the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office appear to have broad support since USPTO officially became a performance-based
organization (PBO) in March.
USPTO has become a discrete management unit
that must focus on setting and meeting goals for performance, but as a PBO,
it is given more management and procurement flexibility to reach those objectives.
Many say that changing an agency's status is not a prerequisite for improving
performance. But the PBO designation enables USPTO to look at managing "with
a new lens" and forces it to rethink the way it operates, said John Kamensky,
deputy director at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government,
which launched the PBO concept. USPTO is the second and largest PBO in government.
The Education Department's Office of Student Financial Assistance Programs
is the other.
The Commerce Department still directs intellectual-property policy but
not the day-to-day operations of USPTO. "It's separating in many ways the
intellectual-property policy from the running of the factory," which includes
examining patent and trademark applications, registering trademarks and
granting patents, said Dennis Shaw, chief information officer at USPTO.
In addition, USPTO no longer has to go through a Commerce review process
before implementing information technology projects.
Commerce oversight has been replaced with a patent board and a trademark
board. There is a USPTO director, a commissioner for patents and a commissioner
for trademarks. The two commissioners are not political appointees but are
hired for five-year terms and have performance plans with the Commerce secretary
that include incentives such as bonuses tied to business goals. The performance
plans of the CIO and other senior executives will be linked to the performance
plans of the two commissioners.
Amid all the changes, funding is perhaps the biggest challenge facing
the agency, which receives its revenue from fees. Much of that revenue is
turned over to the Office of Management and Budget. The PBO legislation
allowed the agency to set up its own procurement system but did not exempt
it from the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.
Already, Q. Todd Dickinson, director of USPTO and undersecretary of
Commerce for intellectual property, has made changes that impact the work
force. For example, he eliminated the requirement that employees sign in
and out on time sheets, extended the hours that employees could work under
flexible work schedules and created the ability to split the workday into
two shifts so that employees can run errands or take care of children.
Changes in IT also are under way. USPTO plans to develop more meaningful
service-level agreements to guarantee a certain level of service to its
internal customers, Shaw said. It also plans to improve how it allocates
costs for specific services.
"Both those things would be done whether you're a PBO or not," he said.
"A PBO gives us more push to get them done. It heightens the urgency."
Ronald Stern, president of the Patent Office Professional Association,
the professional labor union for patent examiners, said he does not anticipate
the PBO designation having any impact on the agency. "The agency has always
been conscious of performance and productivity, so it has always been a
PBO," Stern said. "It's business as usual, but business as usual in a dynamic
organization. It's "wow' business as usual. We are in a phase of huge expansion,
and that makes this a place for opportunities."
Stern credits Dickinson with creating a sense of excitement and establishing
a vision for the agency. "This director wants to be dynamic," he said.
At a glance
Recipe for PBO
Agencies with operations that do not have clear, measurable results
are not suited to become performance-based organizations. For example, the
foreign policy and planning offices in the State Department or basic scientific
research offices at the National Institutes of Health may be inappropriate
Here are the prerequisites for becoming a PBO:
n Have a clear mission, measurable services and a performance measurement
system in place or in development.
n Have a focus on external, not internal, customers.
n Have a clear line of accountability to an agency head who has responsi-bility
for policy functions.
n Have top-level support for transfering a function into a PBO.
n Have predictable sources of funding.
Source: National Partnership for Reinventing Government