In the wake of disturbing news reports of Federal Communications Commission workers surfing the Internet and visiting hardcore pornographic websites because of boredom from a lack of work, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Monday released a report to the news media that revealed supervisors at the DOC's Patent and Trademark Office spent over $5 million for paralegals who hardly performed any work for their salaries and bonuses.
The investigators from the OIG's office initiated a probe following the receipt of anonymous tips that claimed the paralegals, who are federal workers at the Patent Office, were being paid for not working since fiscal year 2010.
" After reading the news stories and the OIG's report, I suspect this is a classic example of 'featherbedding' by a union represented workforce. The pornography is just rancid icing on an unappetizing cake," said former police detective and corporate security investigator Lars Ulfstedson.
Ulfstedson explained that "featherbedding" is the practice of hiring more workers than are necessary to accomplish a given task, or to adopt work procedures which appear pointless, complex and time-consuming merely to keep workers looking busy and productive.
“The complaints alleged that the Paralegal Specialists logged ‘non-production time’ when not working and were logging 50 to 70 hours of such time per 80-hour pay period. At the time, the PTAB carried an extensive backlog of cases, averaging 21,200 matters waiting disposition from Fiscal Years 2009 through 2013,” according to the introduction to the 84-page OIG report. “Our investigation uncovered substantial, pervasive waste at the PTAB [Patent Trial and Appeal Board] that endured for more than four years and resulted in the misuse of federal funds totaling at least $5.09 million.”
Upon discovering that the paralegals were left with nothing to do for hours-on-end, the OIG investigators continued their probe and found that the paralegals -- who made an average base salary of $75,000.00 per year -- were using their desk computers to visit social media websites such as Facebook, watching television, going out to exercise, going home to do laundry or wash dishes, and other non-work activities, at times being paid time-and-a-half for overtime.
Even more troubling was the fact that paralegals were given "performance bonuses" amounting to thousands of dollars for each worker by the Patent Office management staff who also received large bonuses.
Although the OIG's investigative report made recommendations such as workers returning bonuses, there was no mention of terminations or layoffs in the report nor was there a call for managers to be held accountable for out-of-control office practices.