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Report: Government paralegals paid 'to do nothing'

USPTO paralegals getting paid to be idle

All work and no play is netting some government workers some hefty paychecks.

A report released late last month from the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has found that at least 19 paralegals have been getting paid between $60,000 to $80,000 a year to sit around and play around on social networking sites, do some online shopping, chat on the phone, and even watch television.

The co-called “do-nothing” government employees have cost taxpayers about $5.1 million in the last four years, according to the report by the Commerce Department’s inspector general.

CNBC.com also reported what makes the findings worse is that managers looked the other way and billed the hours under “other time” while also giving each of the workers thousands of dollars worth of performance bonuses during the same period.

The investigation was the subject of a House Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers peppered USPTO official Michelle Lee on whether the paralegals will be fired.

"In the private sector, these people wouldn't be employed long. And to add insult to injury, they'll get put on administrative leave," Rep. Tom Marino (R-Penn.) said during the hearing, GovExec noted. "It's a perfect example of how government has grown, and the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."

Lee said the agency is taking the issue "very seriously and is evaluating all options."

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The report also found that the “nonproductive time” racked up to between 50 and 70 hours in an 80-hour pay period, and it all took place while the backlog of appeals at the office piled up. According to auditors, the number of appeals at the USPTO racked up and doubled from 12,500 in 2009 to 25,300 in 2013. However, the head of the union of federal employees defended the paralegals, saying the alerted the agency that there wasn’t enough work to do.

"These frontline employees wanted to work. They let managers know that and ultimately some of them went to the Inspector General about the lack of work, which instigated this report," Kelley said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Todd Elmer, chief communications officer for the USPTO, said the agency is reviewing the report and plans to issue a formal response within 60 days, according to the Washington Times.

 “Many of the OIG’s recommendations for improvements at the PTAB are already underway or have been implemented,” Elmer said in an email statement. He said the agency conducted its own study after it was informed of the problem.

Contributing Author

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Alexis Harrison

Alexis Harrison is a Connecticut-based writer and public relations professional whose career spans both print journalism and broadcast news. Alexis started her professional life as...

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