The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, one of the most avid users of telework among federal agencies, says its productivity largely held up when federal agencies in the Washington area were closed for two days last week due to Hurricane Sandy.
“Despite the emergency government shut down on Monday and Tuesday, our patents and trademarks teams nonetheless averaged more than 70 percent productivity,” USPTO Director David Kappos said in an agency blog post. “A remarkable achievement, considering many of our examiners couldn’t participate because of widespread power outages.”
Many USPTO employees’ duties readily allow for remote working. Among patent examiners, productivity – as measured by progress in moving cases toward a decision – was 76 percent of normal on Monday and 58 percent on Tuesday. Among trademark examining attorneys it was 81 and 79 percent, according to the USPTO.
The agency said its call center for general questions about the trademark process was fully operational during the Hurricane Sandy closure, with 100 percent participation from the work-at-home employees.
The cost to the government in lost productivity is a recurring issue when federal agencies are closed due to severe weather conditions. The Office of Personnel Management did not estimate a cost, largely because growing numbers of federal employees are able to work remotely, and because some employees later catch up on their work.
During a closing, employees who had been scheduled to telework are expected to work, as are certain employees whose jobs are emergency in nature, even though other employees are given the time off with pay. OPM estimates that about a third of employees in the Washington region teleworked during the closings.
The USPTO says that of its roughly 11,600 employees, about 64 percent telework. The most recent government-wide report found that about 8 percent of all federal employees teleworked in September 2011.
USPTO employees also telework much more frequently than the government-wide average, with about half working remotely full-time.