Patent Office 'welcomes' House probe

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is welcoming a new investigation from lawmakers following reports that the agency's employees abused their ability to work remotely.

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In a statement on Wednesday, USPTO chief communications officer Todd Elmer said the agency "welcomes this opportunity to demonstrate that the agency’s award-winning telework programs ... have been integral to the USPTO’s dramatic, quantifiable progress in fulfilling its core functions of reducing the backlog of patent applications and the wait time for applicants."

On Tuesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent the letter requesting information as part of a committee investigation into reports that USPTO employees have been abusing the agency's telework policy.

He cited a Washington Post report based on a Commerce Department audit that claimed agency employees were getting paid to work from home without actually working and that the agency was covering up, rather than punishing, the abuses.

"The waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement described by the Post is unacceptable," Issa wrote, asking the agency to brief committee staff and provide documents related to the alleged abuses. 

In his statement, Elmer said the USPTO is "carefully reviewing the Committee’s request and will respond and remain in close contact with the Committee on this matter."

Elmer also defended the agency's telework program, which he said helps to reduce the patent application backlog, "ensuring that America’s innovators are able to bring their inventions to market more quickly and continue fueling the engine of our nation’s economic growth and job creation."

Earlier this month, Elmer responded to the reports that employees abuse telework programs and that the agency hid those abuses from a government watchdog.

The USPTO's "award-winning telework and hoteling programs have been proven to deliver clear and tangible benefits for the agency and our nation," and the agency provided the government watchdog with a report containing an "accurate, complete reflection of the entirety of the investigation’s record of interviews and supporting data," he said. 

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