IG finds dozens of federal workers watched TV and did laundry on the clock — and got bonuses

posted at 3:21 pm on August 1, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

For years, a particularly enthusiastic entrepreneur pitched his book that purported to show how Americans could get government cash for free — free except for the cost of his book, anyway. It turns out that getting free cash from Uncle Sam is even easier than he promised. The Commerce Department’s Inspector General did an investigation of the Patent and Trademark Office after receiving whistleblower complaints about waste, and discovered that dozens of employees got paid for years of arduous duty … such as watching TV, surfing the Internet, and doing their laundry.

The best part? Some of them got thousands of dollars in performance bonuses:

Dozens of federal employees at an obscure agency that handles appeals of patent applications went years with so little work to do that they collected salaries — and even bonuses — while they surfed the Internet, did laundry, exercised and watched television, an investigation has found.

The employees, paralegals making $60,000 to $80,000 a year, were idle with full knowledge of their immediate bosses and multiple layers of managers and judges who “sat on their hands” waiting for work to give them, a year-long probe by the Commerce Department inspector general’s office uncovered.

The underworked paralegals did little as a backlog of appeals of patent examinations that many of them were hired to help process doubled from about 12,500 in fiscal 2009 to 25,300 last year. Soon after the appeals board brought on additional legal support staff to address a deluge of challenges to decisions by patent examiners, the Patent and Trademark Office imposed a hiring freeze that halted hires of judges needed to handle the appeals.

But they took home more than $4.3 million in pay and about $700,000 in annual performance bonuses of up to $3,500 apiece for “outstanding” work from 2009 through 2013, the report released Tuesday found.

It’s not as if PTO management was unaware of the issue, either:

Managers were “completely aware” of the problem, according to the report.

Even workers who logged over half their time as Other Time got bonuses of up to $3,500 per year.

Part of the problem was a surge in patent appeals but a lack of judges to generate new work for the paralegals. Sometimes bosses developed “special projects” to give paralegals something to do.

“These efforts, however, were feeble, half-hearted, and ineffective at addressing the problem,” investigators concluded.

“In the worst cases, paralegals seemed content to have extensive idle time while collecting full salaries and benefits, and PTAB management seemed to sit on their hands, anticipating the arrival of judges at some unknown date in the future,” investigators found.

Bear this in mind when considering the efforts for “reform” at the VA, where budgets got increased by 78% over six fiscal cycles, only to see fraud and cover-up get worse rather than better. How many of the jobs funded by those increases amount to “Other Time,” or worse? Throwing more money at a structural problem does not solve the issue, and usually means more waste and fraud rather than less. That was proven true at the VA, and don’t think for a moment that the PTO is alone in the federal government in paying workers without having any work for them to do. In fact, we’ve seen the same thing with the ObamaCare contractor Serco in the last few months, although at least Serco isn’t paying their workers to surf the Internet on taxpayer time — and they’re not paying performance bonuses, either.

As I wrote at The Fiscal Times this week about the GAO report on the incompetent handling of ObamaCare, this is another reason why we should limit government to strictly those functions that can only be accomplished by government:

Auto-renewals of policies were supposed to simplify matters by alleviating the need to re-enroll through the exchanges each year, but it now appears that consumers put themselves at risk either way.  “The subsidy scheme created by Congress to keep premiums affordable has so many moving parts that it’s turning out to be difficult for the government to administer,” the AP reported in a line that could have come directly out of F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, distilling one of the original conceptual criticisms of the ACA from the beginning.

The GAO report shows a more basic problem with government-run command economies. The massive expansion of bureaucracies needed to handle all of these moving parts, even inadequately, disperses accountability and responsibility so far and wide as to make both evaporate altogether.

We have seen the same happen at the VA, the IRS, and even the State Department in its handling of the Benghazi consulate. There are no other options for diplomacy or tax collection other than a government monopoly, but that’s not true for health insurance to veterans or Americans on the whole.

The VA scandal and this GAO report shows why top-down control should be limited to those functions that strictly relate to governance – and why we should leave everything else to the private sector with government as a disinterested regulator.

The PTO is a constitutionally authorized federal government function, so there is probably no other option than the bureaucracy that’s in place. But perhaps if we trimmed away a large amount of the federal bureaucracy and instituted some real reforms on retention and oversight policies, we might get better performance from those agencies that we cannot disband.

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America’s Punk/Pimp is on TV

“I saved the world” — obama

Schadenfreude on August 1, 2014 at 3:23 PM

But with all that spare time, surely they were creative and came up with new inventions, right?

Flange on August 1, 2014 at 3:25 PM

The oaf doesn’t give a damn about his party.

I hope he goes it alone, soon.

A veto-proof senate w/b swell.

On topic, work harder. The bloodsuckers need more dough.

Schadenfreude on August 1, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Courtesy of HA’s slickwillie, a favorite bud.

Schadenfreude on August 1, 2014 at 3:32 PM

God, he is STILL on TV?

bernzright777 on August 1, 2014 at 3:33 PM

The Pimp/Punk of the land wants to be in the news on Sunday.

The Land and the World are on fire, and the scum will go to Martha’s Vineyard. Wouldn’t you also go on TV on Friday?

Schadenfreude on August 1, 2014 at 3:34 PM

When I first went from the private sector to a Federal job, one of the trendy things was to get Six Sigma training. When I said at a Department meeting that efficiency systems like “Lean Six Sigma” etc. is that you first identify who your customer is. When I asked who was our customer there was no answer. It was like no one ever even considered such a fundamental building block that has to be addressed to implement such systems.

Such training is not trendy anymore but the fundamental issue remains. There is no market pressure for quality control, cost control, friendly service, timely service etc. Supposedly management metrics fill this void but the metrics are written by people who themselves lack the free market pressures for QC, Cost Control, customer service etc; so they are frequently written to serve the purpose of the metric writer rather than say the taxpayer or the patient in a medical setting. The wrongly set metrics compound a lack of market pressure by creating their own perverse incentives.

KW64 on August 1, 2014 at 3:43 PM

The PTO is a constitutionally authorized federal government function, so there is probably no other option than the bureaucracy that’s in place. But perhaps if we trimmed away a large amount of the federal bureaucracy and instituted some real reforms on retention and oversight policies, we might get better performance from those agencies that we cannot disband.

See, THIS is why gubmint employees should NEVER be allowed to unionize…

Newtie and the Beauty on August 1, 2014 at 3:44 PM

Was talking to a co-worker today. He’s originally from Boston. He told me about a friend of his who was a longshoremen. This guy would work at the docks for half a day and another guy would work the other half-and both would get paid for the full day. Not a government job, but an illustration that this stuff doesn’t happen just within government.

I’m sure that wasn’t an anomaly any more than the main article above is. Then there’s the billions America gives away in foreign aid, Congressional pork, corporate and banker bailouts, the hidden inflation tax, welfare programs and on and on. And within many businesses the mismanagement, parachutes, ridiculously huge bonuses, embezzlement, etc. (and just because their private concerns, that does affect us either directly or indirectly).

What amazes me is how this system has survived this long. I’m one of those types who believes that there really is no infinite supply of wealth that can be pilfered, and that the piper will sooner or later have to be paid.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 1, 2014 at 3:46 PM

obama has saved us!

Paraphrased:

He has added 1.2 million jobs so far this year..
Best numbers since the wonderful days of the late 1990s, he said.

He didn’t mention that 78% of them are servants, illegal alien invaders, and 18% of them are for lawyers for illegal alien invaders.

And the rest being part time private sector jobs.

And also he saved the world by working with Russia to make Iran and Ukraine into Free States or something.

And if Putin does what 0bama wants, he will help Russia grow its economy too.

Punk ranted about the republicans in congress.

Said he will do what he wants, since they won’t act, but they are stupid to complain that he does what he wants, because it is their fault for not doing what he wants.

He is the only one with common sense. Everyone else just plays political games to get the TEA party radicals to like them.

He also said that 80% of Americans (peasants) agree with his plan to secure the border and take care of the broken immigration system… and 80% of the Republicans in the House and Senate agree too.

But that damn 20% TEA Party racist xenophobe pool won’t let the good ones do what needs to be done.

The Eunuch in Chief then biatched about not being asked about his birthday (God, why wasn’t his mom more of a leftist?) and his Martha’s Vineyard vacation…and then he showed the land and the world a big finger and departed.

You’re welcome!

Schadenfreude on August 1, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Just give it a few years. Everything will be nationalized and everyone will have a government job. No more bonuses … and if you don’t do your job it’s off to desert gulag comrade.

darwin on August 1, 2014 at 3:48 PM

I had boss in Federal Government who would watch porn during working hours. I reported him and was told it was OK because the sites he was looking at weren’t blocked so they must be OK. Fortunately he resigned sometime later.

Johnnyreb on August 1, 2014 at 3:52 PM

I’ll bet there is not one Einstein among them.

meci on August 1, 2014 at 3:52 PM

This is child’s play…

Hell, they’re getting Bonuses for Killing people, see VA.

ToddPA on August 1, 2014 at 3:52 PM

Supposedly management metrics fill this void but the metrics are written by people who themselves lack the free market pressures for QC, Cost Control, customer service etc; so they are frequently written to serve the purpose of the metric writer rather than say the taxpayer or the patient in a medical setting. The wrongly set metrics compound a lack of market pressure by creating their own perverse incentives.

KW64 on August 1, 2014 at 3:43 PM

I very much agree with that. However, there are large concerns who I guess have the feeling that they are too big too fail. Bank of America is notorious for poor customer service and screwing things up on their end, and Wal-Mart has a reputation of not having enough people on the sales floor to help customers, and long lines at check out.

I think that we see this same mentality in both government and the market. And, don’t forget, many of these managers go from private industry, to government, and then maybe back again.

To me, it’s more of a systemic problem. The economy isn’t collapsing just because government workers are having someone else punch out for them when they leave early and the like.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 1, 2014 at 3:58 PM

why gubmint employees should NEVER be allowed to unionize…

Newtie and the Beauty on August 1, 2014 at 3:44 PM

Since they NEVER produce a profit they should also NEVER get a bonus.

The leeches live off of hard-working taxpayers.

Alas, pitchfork them all, politically. Remove their Lords.

Schadenfreude on August 1, 2014 at 3:59 PM

I have a job already, but I can do that part-time…where do I send my resume..?

ujorge on August 1, 2014 at 4:00 PM

If they need human trial subjects for Ebola vaccine, I nominate these fine employees

MTF on August 1, 2014 at 4:04 PM

Since they NEVER produce a profit they should also NEVER get a bonus.
The leeches live off of hard-working taxpayers.
Alas, pitchfork them all, politically. Remove their Lords.
Schadenfreude on August 1, 2014 at 3:59 PM

I’m a firm believer, Schade, in that gubmint employees should NEVER receive MORE for similar work than their civilian counterparts.

Newtie and the Beauty on August 1, 2014 at 4:06 PM

Actually, our country would probably be much better off if we did just pay bureaucrats to do absolutely nothing.

gwelf on August 1, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Someone I know works for the VA. First thing most of them do in this particular department when they arrive is get on Facebook. After and hour or so they go to the cafe, get breakfast, return, and get back on Facebook. This is all on work time, of course. Two supervisors watch this day after day after day. Most staff in this department take an hour to 1 1/2 hours every day for lunch even though it’s supposed to be 1/2 hour. Believe me when I tell you there is much worse that goes on but this is in regards to just abuse of time.

This someone filed a formal complaint about these activities. Major retribution ensued including ostracism and making this person “pay” for being 10 minutes late in the morning with their vacation time. This person is no longer told about the Christmas party or other outside get togethers, which is technically against the rules. And the entire Department will not invite this person out to lunch when they all go, including supervisors.

LetsBfrank on August 1, 2014 at 4:33 PM

IG finds dozens of federal workers watched TV and did laundry on the clock — and got bonuses

Well, all of you are missing the good news…at least these guys don’t have time to target conservatives…

right2bright on August 1, 2014 at 4:42 PM

Oh, wait…I forgot about the “Redskins”…

right2bright on August 1, 2014 at 4:43 PM

LetsBfrank on August 1, 2014 at 4:33 PM

Correction, person filed a complaint about other activities, not these, but in the process was told that the VA was aware of all the time abuses but the VA claimed they could not “prove” it.

LetsBfrank on August 1, 2014 at 5:03 PM

I keep saying it…

The magic phrase is performance bonuses.

Performance Management, or Pay-for-Performance, in its various guises is an awful sickness that perverts pay systems, and especially in the government. On paper, and in the few places it has spectacularly succeeded, it looks marvellous. In practice, unless each and every manager up the line (all the way to the top) is fully bought-in to the principals of the program and that it absolutely must tie in to the overall mission and success of the organization, performance management too often succeeds in causing an organization to fail spectacularly.

When goals are not carefully set and strictly enforced, it’s easy for clever people to get rewarded for doing nothing exceptional. The ones who work hard at their jobs, and set real, difficult, and organization-furthering goals discover that they’ve been had… the screw-offs are getting the bonuses, and all the hard-workers get is grief. Next budget cycle, the smart ones of the hard-workers decide they’ll be clever and sure-enough, they end up getting easy bonuses.

Once everyone is getting their bonuses, everyone is a happy camper, right up and down the line. Only problem is that they’ve stopped thinking about what the organization needs to do to fulfil it’s purpose, and are really only working on what it takes to get their bonus.

Any manager who tries to implement appropriate goals will quickly find life to be very hard. If his employees aren’t getting the easy bonuses, it’s very likely that said manager won’t be getting them either. And come annual review time, he’ll get downgraded because he’s not meeting all those goals like his fellow managers. Whoops! There went that promotion to the next salary step!

Performance bonuses are wonderful tools if used properly. Too often they are badly misused and actually work to subvert an organization.

DaveK on August 1, 2014 at 5:39 PM

The perfect example for why the government needs to be downsized. Oversized, over staffed.

kjatexas on August 2, 2014 at 9:29 AM