They are playing hardball with employees at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
On June 2, local police handcuffed and arrested a patent examiner at the agency's offices in Alexandria, charging the federal employee with a felony for allegedly falsifying his time card to the tune of more than $200.
The case is one of several recently in which agency employees have been arrested on the job for offenses such as defrauding the government, theft from other employees and criminal activities unrelated to their work at the agency.
Ronald J. Stern, president of the Patent Office Professionals, a union that represents about 4,300 employees at the agency, called such measures "extreme," at least in the case of the examiner, the only affected employee covered by his union.
"It's not the first time that somebody cheated on time," said Stern, who stressed that the examiner has not been found guilty. "It is the first time they used local prosecutors to prosecute the employee for a criminal offense. . . . I've been with the agency for 41 years, and this is the first time I have ever heard about something like this."
Agency officials, hit with inquiries about the arrests, sent an e-mail to employees last week asserting they were only bystanders as the Commerce Department's inspector general and local police did their jobs.
"No USPTO employee has made an arrest. Representatives from USPTO's Office of Security are alerted that an arrest will take place just as the law enforcement officials arrive at our buildings," the e-mail said. ". . . The law enforcement agencies making the arrest decide what arrest procedures to use. If they decide to handcuff an employee, the USPTO cannot stop them. We are told that law enforcement officials who have used handcuffs are following standard procedure."
Sight-impaired people are making tens of thousands of the Army's new camouflage uniform for troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The arrangement is made possible by a decades-old law requiring the military and other federal agencies to purchase products made at competitive prices by agencies that employ the blind and people with severe disabilities -- a group with a 70 percent unemployment rate.
The Army contract calls for about 60,000 pairs of trousers to be made by the San Antonio Lighthouse this year and 120,000 pairs by the El Paso Lighthouse for the Blind. Similar work, along with the production of the accompanying uniform jacket, is being done by sight-impaired workers in North Carolina, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) of Alexandria, which oversees the contract, according to an Associated Press report.
The three-year contract is worth about $15 million to the participating nonprofit agencies, Jim Gibbons, NIB's president, told the AP. Workers in San Antonio are paid $8 to $13 per hour plus benefits.
The fabric for the new Advanced Combat Uniform is a mix of light green, tan and gray that blends into urban, desert and forest environments. The uniform is also designed to accommodate new body armor.
-- Christopher Lee