Congress wants Patent Office to get a handle on telework

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Oversight chiefs in Congress want the new head of the Patent and Trademark Office and the Government Accountability Office to see if time and attendance abuse is still a problem among the nation's far-flung patent examiners.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was once considered a poster child for successful telework programs, but a series of adverse oversight reports detailed abuse of time and attendance rules, with a relatively small number of workers responsible for a large share of questionable attendance reports.

An inspector general report on one case found a patent examiner bilked the U.S. government out of more than $25,000 in misreported hours, and often played golf or socialized while on the clock.

The chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, along with several senior members and a Senate counterpart, are looking for answers. In a pair of March 28 letters, the lawmakers are seeking an update to 2003 Government Accountability Office guidance on time and attendance reporting, as well as written assurances from Andrei Iancu, the new PTO director, that the agency is taking steps to lock down time and attendance policy.

The lawmakers want Iancu to explain how PTO is implementing the recommendations of an August 2016 IG report and detail the number of PTO employees who have misreported or otherwise abused time and attendance, and any disciplinary actions taken.

The lawmakers noted in their letter to GAO that the watchdog's guidance on time and attendance best practices dates back 15 years.

"Given the fast-paced and ever-evolving change in technology and the increasing use of telework by federal agencies, we believe the federal government would benefit from an update to the report," they write.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee joined House Oversight leaders Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and several other lawmakers in the letters.

The administration also appears to be taking a more-measured tone on telework. At a March 29 event on women in the federal IT and cyber workforce, federal CIO Suzette Kent was asked about the role telework can play in attracting and keeping tech workers who are trying to balance family obligations. While Kent said telework is an important tool, and noted that many agencies' IT modernization efforts could enable greater flexibility, she stressed that the government must ensure actual productivity from teleworkers, "not just tele-availability."

Troy K. Schneider contributed to this report.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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