The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is looking at placing stronger controls on its teleworking program after a former employee bilked the agency of more than $25,000 while hitting the driving range.
An inspector general's report released on Aug. 19 showed that a patent examiner with permission to telework was paid for 730 hours at a GS-11 salary, but in fact used much of that time at local bars, a driving range and playing pool.
Resource: Read the IG Report
In a statement, USPTO officials said they are "confident that the extensive array of additional controls, policies, procedures, and training initiatives that it has implemented since that time have enhanced the agency's ability to detect such abuse more quickly and correct it more effectively."
Agency officials noted that a new pilot program was in place to improve abuse management within the patent examiner corps, reforms of the teleworking policy and computer usage records.
"The USPTO is very carefully considering all of the OIG's findings and recommendations, including that the agency consider any legal remedies available to it for monetary restitution from this former employee," officials said in the statement.
The OIG report noted that investigators reached out to the employee in question for an interview, but he resigned the day of the interview. The report states that the employee told another worker that he was advised by the Patent Office Professional Association (POPA), a union for patent employees, to quit ahead of the interview to "have a clean slate [with] no conduct or performance record."
The report recommended noting the violations in the employee's file in addition to seeking restitution for the $25,500 paid to the employee during the fraudulent time record. Officials at POPA didn't return calls by publication.
The abuse came to light after an anonymous letter was delivered to two supervisors in August 2014, complaining of the suspected employee's attendance and quality of work.
Investigators found that the employee would often log hours of work despite not event turning on his computer or would often check out to go to a driving range/bar deemed the "Golf Bar" in the report.
Topgolf Alexandria, a restaurant/entertainment facility that also contains a driving range, is six miles from the USPTO office.
The investigation was limited to FY 2014 because data on the USPTO servers was limited to a year's worth of workplace information.
The investigation found that despite rule changes in 2013 that should have limited the employee's ability to work from home, his remote access was not deactivated.
An examination of entrance turnstile and instant messenger records showed the employee entered the USPTO office in Alexandria, but stayed for less than three hours before heading to the bar.
Among the OIG's recommendations, the report stated that USPTO should reform its work performance assessment reports; reinstate turnstile exit logs, which were deactivated in 2008; and retain up to three years of workplace data on its servers to aid in future investigations.