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June 16, 2008

One Forward, Two Back

The US patent system is unraveling as the USPTO desperately clings to the telework thread as a last hope for reducing pendency. POPA reports that "management has proposed legislation which would allow the agency to permit employees to telework from anywhere in the United States". Yet POPA laments that this latest effort "would not require the agency to pay for employees' travel when the agency requires them to report to USPTO headquarters" and that "management also wants to pay telework employees according to the locality in which the employees actually live and work".

The proposal.

POPA, generally prone to excess drama, has legitimate concerns, as examiners will be presented with the dilemma of weighing the value of escaping the DC-hell-swamp versus a possibly significant reduction in pay with increased expense. Although it is unclear exactly how pay would be calculated, since examiners are paid based on a special pay rate and not based on DC locality pay, the PTO is often less than generous.

Admittedly, the USPTO has made many necessary advances in telework, even while other government agencies lag behind. Yet it appears that for every one step forward, they take two steps back. Telework participation at the levels necessary to avoid overcrowding at PTO headquarters and to significantly reduce backlog will only come with PTO compromise. Buck up, before it is too late.

Previous Patent Prospector telework coverage: I Swear Tele-Works; If I Were the Dude....

Posted by Mr. Platinum at June 16, 2008 12:57 PM | The Patent Office

Comments

I love Washington DC. That swamp description hurts man! However, I was born here, and I have lived over a half century in this swamp. I am hopelessly inbred and biased.

If the PTO had that telework thing ten years ago, I'd still be working for them. I mainly hated the sight of my SPE and being in close proximity to some other knuckleheads "in charge." Hee hee hee. If I were a teleworker, I still live in DC and never travel across the river to VA again.

POPA, give it up and go with the flow. Stop being so cheap (as I remember examiners lining up for any freebie regarding any kind of food product)!

Posted by: Inbred Agent at June 16, 2008 1:12 PM

"management also wants to pay telework employees according to the locality in which the employees actually live and work"

This is thing that has frightened me in the past given that DC has a high cost of living. However if you look at OPM cost of living adjustments (http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/2008/2008-01-Attach2.pdf), maybe having that happen would just sting a little.

If you look at the PDF I cited it seems OPM groups Washington DC with Baltimore along with parts of WV and PA. That probably deflates the cost of living adjustment currently given (20.89%). If you hotel in the worst case scenario (see table "Rest of U.S." 13.18%) you'd make 1.1318/1.2089 = 93.6% of what you'd make in DC.

The area I would move to would earn 95% of DC money. The resultant benefits (no DC traffic, lower housing costs) would more than offset making 5% less.

Posted by: 2600examiner at June 16, 2008 1:55 PM

Hawk

I'm missing your drift. And I almost always miss POPA's drift, as predictable as it is.

The whole idea is to be able to pay examiners living in Iowa (once it dries out)less $$ and use the saved $$ to hire more examiners to work on the back-log. And yet the reduced $$ buys the Iowa examiners a comparable or increased standard of living compared to living in the Belt-way. After all, the inflated examiners' salaries are ALWAYS justified on the basis of the high cost of living in DC.

So . . . like, what's the problem, POPA? Are they seriously saying, pay examiners in Iowa the same salary as if they lived in DC? Huh????

As far as the examiner paying his travel cost back to Alexandria for meetings, if the examiner chooses to live in Iowa, why should the PTO pay any travel costs? If the PTO forces them to live in Iowa, then that's a different story.

My question is: if my office is in D.C. and an examiner moves to La Jolla, who pays my fare to fly out there for the interview? Why should my clients pay because the examiner doesn't want to work at, literally, the PTO?

Somebody ought to set down two rules from the get-go: 1) The applicants and the system and the taxpayer should not be picking up additional costs for examiners to get to choose where they work from. 2) Unless the PTO realizes a clear $$ benefit, no examiners work anywhere but Alexandria.

Why not more the whole PTO to New Orleans? Boost their economy, cut examiners' salaries, avoid the Belt-way traffic, centralize the operation geographically, and put those empty FEMA trailers to good use.

Posted by: Babel Boy at June 17, 2008 5:40 AM

I am an examiner who soon will be hotelling (PTO's term for fulltime work-from-home). I will be staying in the DC area. But I understand POPA's concerns.

The hotelling agreement allows for management to call a person into the office at the manager's discretion. I have seen first-hand instances when the manager calls a person for legitimate meetings or interviews (which is fine), and other times when the manager just wants to flex his/her muscles. Asking a guy to drive in from Richmond VA (4 hour roadtrip) just because he wants to let the examiner know who's boss seems a tad excessive.

Most examiners are passing on the hotelling offer and are staying within the office. The agency is behind on their hotelling goals and under pressure to move people out due to building capacity concerns.

This is the logic that has been expressed to me by a lot of examiners.

1)They find limited value from working-at-home unless they can move away from the area. In essence, the true and only rewards of hotelling are in relocation.
2) Most are willing to take a paycut if the PTO adjusts the payscale based upon locality, as the loss due to the payscale adjustment is marginal in comparison to the cost-of-living adjustment.
3) The loss becomes worst if an examiner has to fly into the area multiple times within a month. Currently, examiners need to physically check-in to the office once a week. So, you currently have to travel to the office 4 times a month. Examiners have to also attend in-person interviews, training and other on-site events. The price of travel quickly adds up, especially as one moves farther away, quickly eating up the financial benefits of relocation to a cheaper locale.

So, the conclusion of most examiners is if I need to come to the office alot and eat the travel expenses I cannot move far away from the office. If I cannot move away from the office, it is not worth hotelling.

Posted by: Examiner B at June 17, 2008 7:59 AM

Examiner B

My crystal ball tells me Skype is in your future.

Posted by: Babel Boy at June 17, 2008 8:11 AM

Examiner B is correct. There are too many idiot SPE's over there who would do the type of flexing Examiner B describes.

The solution? Get rid of the SPE's. They are useless anyway.

Posted by: JD at June 17, 2008 8:45 AM

Inbred here again. If what JD and Examiner B say is correct, I guess I would have left even with a hotel program. What jerks! There is no need for this (or SPEs).

Posted by: Inbred Agent at June 17, 2008 8:58 AM

I don't want it to sound like all SPEs are d*cks. Most are fine. For most SPEs, as long as you produce the numbers that they want, they'll be totally hands off and you can do your own thing.

But there are a few that treat their art unit of 15 examiners like it was his/her personal feifdom. It's nothing special. Every workplace has its share.

It's just with SPEs given "managerial discretion" it is kind of gamble how you'll be treated once your hotelling. My own SPE is pretty cool and I don't foresee any problems...but art units get reshuffled and SPEs get reassigned, so you never know what'll happen down the line.

Posted by: Examiner B at June 17, 2008 9:10 AM

Babel Boy:

Thanks for the comments.

I had in mind many of the concerns that Examiner B expressed above regarding SPE discretion.

Telework should not be treated by the PTO as a way to save money, but rather as a way to retain talented examiners tired of living in the DC area, thereby reducing attrition rates and reducing pendency. The patent system is in danger of falling apart, and a national telework program is a step toward fixing that, no matter what the cost.

Keep in mind, even with paying travel expenses and current salaries, the PTO might still save money through telework, considering the cost of office space in DC; especially since they are currently in danger of out growing their Alexandria location.

Building satellite offices is definitely another alternative, but might be too costly.

Regardless of cost, national telework in vitally important.

Posted by: Mr. Platinum at June 17, 2008 9:34 AM

Examiner B

I sure am glad my SPE is not like the one you describe. That kind of person would be miserable to work with in any situation. The fear of getting a SPE like that at some point in the future should not sway one's decision to go into hotelling.

"Most examiners are passing on the hotelling offer and are staying within the office."

I don't understand why this is. I have been doing it for about 4 months and I highly recommend it. I save 3.5 hours per day by not commuting.

"The agency is behind on their hotelling goals and under pressure to move people out due to building capacity concerns."

I keep hearing this, but it does not seem to be true in my old building. My old office, vacated 4 months ago, is still empty. A lot of GS-12's have their own office on my old floor.

"Currently, examiners need to physically check-in to the office once a week."

Hopefully this will end soon. This is government policy that can only be changed by legislation.

"Examiners have to also attend in-person interviews, training and other on-site events."

I have had 1 in-person interview in 4 years at the PTO. Maybe some practitioners could weigh in on the importance of meeting in person. It doesn't seem like that big a deal. Besides, the technology for video conferencing is improving. I have "attended" training sessions, tech fair seminars, and art unit meetings remotely. There is no real need to be physically present in the Alexandria office even now.

The PTO has a transportation subsidy program. Why should this not include long distance travel for people who only come to the office a couple of times a year?

Posted by: Biotech examiner at June 22, 2008 4:38 PM

"The PTO has a transportation subsidy program. Why should this not include long distance travel for people who only come to the office a couple of times a year? "

Because that's for taking public transportation like the metro. I guess hotellers could get some metrochecks too. They don't pay for you if you're using gas or anything other than public transportation.

Posted by: e6k at June 22, 2008 5:45 PM