Performance is agency's trademark

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"Recipe for PBO"

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

candidates.

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

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