House Oversight wants Patent Office answers

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is investigating the Patent Office after reports that the agency's employees have taken advantage of their ability to work remotely.

In a letter to the Commerce Department on Tuesday, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked the Patent Office to respond to questions raised by a recent report that claimed that the agency's employees misuse its telework program.

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Issa, pointing to a Washington Post report, cited multiple instances of employees abusing the ability to work from home while still receiving full pay.

He mentioned reports that paralegals were getting paid while "surfing the Internet, washing clothes and reading books," and that an employee set up a program to automatically move his computer mouse "to create the appearance that he was working."

The agency failed to crack down on those employees and hid the abuses from government watchdogs, Issa wrote, criticizing the agency for failing to keep employees in line "at a time when [patent] examiners are apparently falling behind on one of the core functions of the agency."

The Patent Office is often criticized for failing to process patent applications quickly.

The office "has a backlog of patent applications of over 600,000, and an approximate wait time of more than five years," Issa wrote.

"Despite patent examiners generally receiving salary at the top of the federal pay scale — some making $148,000 a year — it appears the telework program is not serving its intended purpose to produce more efficiency."

He asked the agency to provide "all documents and communications, including emails" related to the reported abuses by Sept. 2.

He also asked the agency to make arrangements by Friday to brief committee staff.

"The waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement described by the Post is unacceptable," Issa wrote.