Responding to a furor over a patent examiner who billed the government for four months of work he didn’t do, the head of the federal agency that approves patents and trademarks told employees Tuesday that such abuse “will not be tolerated.”
“Unfortunately, as in all large organizations, there may be instances where some employees do not live up to the high standards expected of federal workers,” Michelle Lee, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, wrote in an e-mail to 9,000 agency employees. “Time and attendance abuse is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The stern warning comes after a eye-popping investigation by the inspector general for the Commerce Department, the patent office’s watchdog. An examiner with a history of poor performance who was never disciplined racked up more than 18 weeks of pay last year for not working. But his manager, who worked from home, only noticed when he received an anonymous letter calling out the employee.
The examiner, who quit hours before he was scheduled to meet with investigators, frequently told colleagues he was leaving work to go to the local golf driving range, play pool or grab a beer — then claimed a full day on the job on his time sheet.
On most of the days when the examiner was gaming the system, “there was no evidence” he even went to the office or did any work on his government-issued laptop, investigators found.
When The Washington Post asked patent officials for a response to the report last week, they called this an isolated case and said they’ve improved oversight of examiners since the newspaper reported last year on an alleged cover-up of time and attendance fraud.
But Lee apparently chose to send employees a stronger message this week. Here’s the full text of her e-mail:
From: USPTO Broadcast
Sent: Tuesday, August 25, 2015 9:19:52 AM
Subject: A Message from Director Michelle K. Lee
The entire Executive Committee and I very much appreciate the hard work you, as USPTO employees, perform for our country. The work you do here is vital to the innovation community and the economy and we deeply value your contributions. Unfortunately, as in all large organizations, there may be instances where some employees do not live up to the high standards expected of federal workers.
As you may be aware, on August 19, 2015, the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report<https://www.oig.doc.gov/Pages/OIG-Investigation-into-Alleged-Time-and-Attendance-Abuse-by-a-Patent-Examiner.aspx> addressing significant time and attendance abuse of a USPTO employee. Although USPTO referred this matter to the OIG for review, the results of the OIG’s report are disturbing.
Time and attendance abuse betrays the trust our stakeholders and the American public have placed in us. It is also unfair to our many, many hard-working and dedicated employees who exhibit their integrity each and every day to fulfilling our shared mission of empowering American innovation. We are all harmed by such abuse, even in isolated cases like this.
So, along with the agency’s entire Executive Committee, it is important to reiterate that time and attendance abuse is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
We are inspired by so many of our hardworking and dedicated employees. And importantly, I know that together we will remain vigilant in our focus on fulfilling the vital mission of our agency in the service of the American public.
Michelle K. Lee
Director of the USPTO