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Every Day Is Goof-Off-At-Work Day At the US Patent and Trademark Office 327

Posted by samzenpus
from the I'll-do-it-later dept.
McGruber writes An internal investigation by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found that some of its 8,300 patent examiners repeatedly lied about the hours they were putting in and many were receiving bonuses for work they did not do. While half of the USPTO's Patent Examiners work from home full time, oversight of the telework program — and of examiners based at the Alexandria headquarters — was "completely ineffective," investigators concluded. The internal investigation also unearthed another widespread problem. More than 70 percent of the 80 managers interviewed told investigators that a "significant" number of examiners did not work for long periods, then rushed to get their reviews done at the end of each quarter. Supervisors told the review team that the practice "negatively affects" the quality of the work. "Our quality standards are low," one supervisor told the investigators. "We are looking for work that meets minimal requirements." Patent examiners review applications and grant patents on inventions that are new and unique. They are experts in their fields, often with master's and doctoral degrees. They earn at the top of federal pay scale, with the highest taking home $148,000 a year.
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Every Day Is Goof-Off-At-Work Day At the US Patent and Trademark Office

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  • by vux984 (928602) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:05PM (#47648589)

    Congress will goof off for 3 months, then rush to pretend like they were investigating it.

  • by halivar (535827) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:07PM (#47648613) Homepage

    of why small-government types are not completely out of their fucking gourd.

  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:11PM (#47648647)

    Keep watching, you will learn a lot.

    I foresee nobody losing their job, except the snitches. Government work.

  • Not quite accurate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:13PM (#47648675)

    I used to work at the patent office, and I can tell you the article doesn't quite understand the way the office works. Examiners are required to get a very specific amount of cases done for the hours they work or they are fired. They seriously total up the hours worked and require X number of cases done based on it. At worst what is happening is that people are slacking off at the beginning of a quarter and then working extra at the end to make up for it. But it's not like they never do any work. If someone doesn't make their counts, as they call it, they are pretty quickly in trouble.

    So the worst here is that some examiners might be doing a bad job at the end of a quarter because they slacked off at the beginning of it. Even still, there's a lot of other reasons why someone might get less counts at the beginning of a quarter. They might be working on their harder cases early, for example, because they're not up against a deadline. Or they might be hanging on to cases they've worked on just to think them over -- since they aren't really due yet. So it's hard to say what's really going on here. There are definitely some bad examiners but there's no way people are never working or they wouldn't get their counts and they'd be fired.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:18PM (#47648727)

    From the sounds of it, I could do it in the background while at my real job.

    It has happened before. Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity while goofing off at the Swiss Patent Office.

    http://xkcd.com/1067/ [xkcd.com]

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:26PM (#47648821)

    of why small-government types are not completely out of their fucking gourd.

    Size and quality are not, necessarily, related. They assume that small government would be staffed with highly qualified and highly motivated people, yet forget there only about 550 people in the US Congress (Senate+House) and they haven't gotten anything done in years.

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:29PM (#47648857) Journal

    Oh random government-worker hater modded up. Must be a Monday on slashdot.

    It's insightful because no private sector workers ever goofed off, or spent the "work from home" days, grazing from the fridge, playing halo. And no public sector worker ever ever rushed through a piece of late work and did a half assed job.

    Ever.

  • by grepninja7 (966645) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:38PM (#47648953)
    The reason is that it is hard to fire a federal employee is so that the positions are not used to reward political allies and contributors every time someone new is elected.
  • by phorm (591458) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:45PM (#47649051) Journal

    Oh, I'd imagine that private workers goof off too. The thing is, when they do it jeopardizes whatever project they're involved with, with monetary loss to the company.

    In the case of the USPTO... well I'd imagine you've ready some of the stories of the horrific patents that keep getting passed (and how the USPTO claims they're sooooo overburdened). It's the whole country (and some would say other countries as well, see Apple V Samsung) that's suffering from *that* mess

  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc&carpanet,net> on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:51PM (#47649133) Homepage

    Ever seems to be missing the point. Sure, nearly everybody goofs off occasionally. Have I ever spent most of a work from home day goofing off? Sure. Have I ever dialed into a meeting and played video games because the meeting was totally useless for me? Yup. Ever encompasses many many things.

    The thing is, the article isn't about how this one time a guy at the Patent office spent a day goofing off. Its about how goofing off, not doing the work, and then rushing the report is standard operating procedure.

    You do get that there is a difference between something that someone did or something that happened and... how business is normally conducted. Like, its one thing to go out for lunch with your coworkers and all get drunk one day....its quite another to do it every day as a matter of course.

  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:51PM (#47649137)
    I do not have to pay for some tool at IBM. If they want to pay people for crap then that is their business.

    But it is our business when public employees are being paid good money for bad work. I can understand how you believe differently. Wait. I can't. I can see no reason that your belief that the public has no interest in ho the people they are paying to do a job are performing that job.

    The fact that you would state something so obviously wrong makes me think that either you have an agenda or are incredibly stupid.

  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:55PM (#47649185)

    Really? I'm sorry, but when was the last time any IRS official pulled a gun on someone and told them to hand over their money.

    Try not giving them the money. Then you will see.

  • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:57PM (#47649209) Homepage

    Really? I'm sorry, but when was the last time any IRS official pulled a gun on someone and told them to hand over their money.

    If you don't pay, IRS will put a lien on your house. If you still don't pay, the house will be sold — and police (with guns) will arrive to kick you out from it.

    Don't be stupid disputing the obvious — all governments world-wide collect revenues at gun-point. It is normal and the only way possible. It just means, the monies thus collected should only be used in situations, where weapons would take place: enforcing laws and fighting foreign enemies.

    You mean like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, AIG [....]

    Corporations don't have the means of coercing people to buy their services, don't even bring them up here.

    After all, the benevolence of the private sector is so well known we sing their praises every day because they never, EVER take advantage of people or stick it to us in their quest for profits

    Again, corporations are not (normally) in a position to coerce anybody to buy their services — only the government is in such a position and its role in our lives must be minimized, not perpetually expanded.

    Your link is to a description of some outrage committed by Comcast — which is funny, because the company is a book-case example of crony capitalism: it (and other cable giants) grew out of government's idiocy of giving them monopoly [cato.org], and their CEO today plays golf with the President [politico.com].

    Corporations are not any nicer, than they have to be — in order to compete. But monopolies — like Comcast — don't have anyone to compete with. And the government is the biggest and harshest monopoly of all. One can cancel their Comcast bill — even if it can be infuriatingly ridiculous. Now try opting out of Social Security...

  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc&carpanet,net> on Monday August 11, 2014 @01:59PM (#47649223) Homepage

    > The real problem is that firing an underling reflects poorly on his manager(s). This is also the truth everywhere, of
    > course, but in normal enterprises there is this dirty and otherwise reprehensible "profit" to think about, so a bad
    > employee can still be fired even if the manager's record gets hurt in the process.

    I think you are looking at the wrong problem. Yes, this exists but, I look at it this way:

    If there is an underperforming employee who just isn't doing the work, there is, most likely, a problem with THAT employee. It may be one you can work with or fix, but, very likely it is localized; and there is a chance, either way, that replacing him fixes it.

    If many employees are not doing the work however, the problem is likely not the employees but a more general systemic issue relating to management or work structure; and replacing the employees will likely be about as effective as rotating your tires because the battery stopped charging.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:00PM (#47649241) Homepage Journal

    a "significant" number of examiners did not work for long periods, then rushed to get their reviews done at the end of each quarter.

    Where does this deadline cycle NOT happen?

    Managers and/or auditors could spend more time monitoring employees, but then you have to pay the monitors and hire more managers, and also monitor the monitors to make sure they are monitoring correctly, creating a recursive bloat in inspection time.

    Further, the monitors and monitor of monitors would have to be experts to know if employees are really spending quality time. If you just count time staring at the screen, typing, or reading research, you can't know if it's relevant to the task unless you are an expert in that specialty also. Industry-specific auditors are going to be pretty expensive.

    Plus, recruiting is harder and/or more expensive if potential specialty employees find out their ass is always under Big Brother's watch.

    Brick-laying is relatively easy to monitor. Intellectual tasks, not so much.

    Sometimes it's just cheaper to accept some slack than add bureaucracy layers to prevent all slack.

    (It's similar to weeding out welfare cheats: Republicans want to heavily monitor welfare recipients, but the cost of monitoring and related lawsuits could be more than the welfare cheating, making taxes even higher, which Republicans can't stand...or at least act like they can't stand.)

    Managers should be able to give bonus pay and/or penalties for productivity. However, in practice this often results in favoritism as managers judge based on friendship or kissing up rather than raw merit. Humans are just that way, in general.

    In short, no easy fix.

  • by edawstwin (242027) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:26PM (#47649473)

    Only $148k at the top of the scale? They probably get some benefits like health care, but they must be the dregs of Masters and Doctorates. I can't imagine taking such a pay cut, and I get 7 weeks paid vacation as well as a pension and health plan.

    It sounds like they get a helluva lot more than 7 weeks paid vacation every year. That's the whole point of the article.

  • by halivar (535827) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:31PM (#47649525) Homepage

    They assume that small government would be staffed with highly qualified and highly motivated people

    By no means! A small government will attract the same sorts of people; the difference is the evildoers can't hide in the massive, inscrutable cogs of the machinery. Accountability is easier when there are fewer places to pass the buck.

  • by danbert8 (1024253) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:50PM (#47649659)

    You'd want to opt out of Social Security because it's a Ponzi Scheme. Or maybe because you can get better returns on your retirement dollars in a private fund. Or maybe because you'd rather buy gold for your retirement savings.

    If you don't pay your mortgage than you are in violation of a contract and the bank goes to the government to bring guys with guns to kick you out as you are trespassing on the bank's property. It's still the government with the guns. Your bank can't have it's own private enforcement kick you out of their house.

  • by deKernel (65640) <timfbarber AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday August 11, 2014 @03:01PM (#47649735)

    There are several reasons why I would opt-out. First off, I could get a far better return if I had a professional invest that money. Second, I am not adding to a fund that Congress can "borrow from" whenever they want. Third, I abhor the idea that I am just adding to the massive atrocity called the Federal Government.

    What really irritates me is that the monster has gotten to the point where it just can't go away because such a large percentage of our population has gotten so damn lazy that they now plan on relying on Social Security for their income during retirement.

    Regarding the mortgage assertion....NOBODY FORCED YOU TO SIGN THE PAPERS!!!!!!!! When you sign up for debt, you pay it or pay the consequences.

  • by PuckSR (1073464) on Monday August 11, 2014 @03:28PM (#47649965)

    The CATO Institute reference is laughable.
    It is interesting to read their mental masturbation about how multiple cable companies could compete in the same city, each with their copper. While that could technically happen, the diminishing returns of market entry would keep any sane company from entering into the market. Also, since their Utopia would be lacking in ANY government regulation, the larger company would simply purchase the smaller company if it became a threat. Which is EXACTLY what happened.

    That paper was written in 1984. Thanks to their argument many places deregulated the cable industry.
    Cable prices sky-rocketed. Companies merged. No true competition arrived. Comcast isn't an example of crony-capitalism. Comcast is the result of people like you and the CATO institute blocking government from heavily regulating "natural monopolies".

    Why did anyone care in 1984? Because the federal government had just 'regulated' Ma' Bell. They required the company to reduce its sphere of influence and then they required them to allow "virtual competition". Government 'regulation'(in the form of anti-trust rulings) eventually required AT&T to operate as a copper providers, while other companies could operate as service providers. What was the result of all of this government regulation of a natural monopoly? Prices for long-distance calls dropped rapidly. Services were upgraded in many areas that were previously "unprofitable". Technologies that made heavy use of previously existing infrastructure(ADSL) spurred technological advances.

    Basically, the best thing for the internet and cable TV would be HEAVY regulation. It might fall under a different name, but it would be regulation because it would be the government imposing its will on the market. If you wanted truly better service you would look to the deregulation of power operators in Texas as a key example. Create 3 specific "tiers": Content providers, network operators, retailers. Require that no company could exist as more than 1. Pay the network operators based on peers and speed. Watch the internet/cable get better rather rapidly.

  • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday August 11, 2014 @04:36PM (#47650537) Journal

    you like a military that will defend you? Yes. I'm tired of nation building nations that don't want it. Bomb them back into the 4th Century where they belong, and leave.

    you like clearn water and air? Yes. I'm tired of being told that I should cut my CO2 usage by people flying around in Jet, traveling in SUV motorcades and living in 10000ft2 mansions.

    you like a social safety net that keeps the weakest from falling too far? Yes. But I'm tired of people gaming the system and making me pay for it. Safety Net is not permanent solution.

    you like a postal system? Not really. It is becoming more obsolete every day. I currently get three or four legit pieces of mail a week, and most of those could be Electronic instead.

    you like you drivable roads? Yes. Many of the roads I travel are becoming less so, as government redirects fuel and vehicle taxes to pay for the "safety net" mentioned earlier.

    you like food safety inspections and standards? Yes. And for the most part, the FDA has done an average to below average job.

    you like fireman to save your house, and police to catch bad guys? Yes. I don't have much complaint about Fire, but Police are pretty bad these days. And I wish they would actually lock up criminals rather than spending time on victimless crimes.

    Finally, all taxes are regressive. YES people should pay taxes, but only voluntarily. BY Voluntarily, I mean by using products or services that are NOT required for living. Taxing Income is nothing short of indentured servitude of the masses, and is evil. And nothing you can say will change my view of it.

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Monday August 11, 2014 @05:49PM (#47651017)

    What really irritates me is that the monster has gotten to the point where it just can't go away because such a large percentage of our population has gotten so damn lazy that they now plan on relying on Social Security for their income during retirement.

    It is not "lazy" for people who could not opt out of a system that ate away at their income, which they were subject to their entire working lives, to expect the promises to be kept.

    Would you be happy if you were told that mandatory deductions from your pay (and an equal amount the employer could have paid to you were it not for his mandatory contribution to the same place) were going to cover a layaway plan for a nice new Lamborghini when you retired, and then be told when you actually do retire that there is no Lamborghini and you're a lazy ass for not having bought your own car -- with the income you had left over after paying into the layaway program?

    You want to disband social security? Fine. Give me back every penny I paid into the system that you think I shouldn't get anything back out of and we'll call it even. I'll be nice and only expect 2% interest on my money.

  • by pepty (1976012) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @01:59AM (#47652959)
    For all of the jokes about the DMV, every time I've been there the workers know their jobs and move things along just fine. Its the folks who couldn't be bothered to make an appointment, didn't bring the right paperwork, or hate the law and are (very loudly) requesting that it not be applied to them who end up spending lots of wasted time at the DMV.

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