In a new report, internal investigators say more than $5 million in federal resources were wasted at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a group of workers were allowed to draw full pay, benefits and bonuses while doing little actual work for several years.
"The volume of hours charged to Other Time - which were hours that paralegals were paid their full salary, but were not working - was remarkably high and troubling," reported the Inspector General at the Commerce Department.
"Other Time" was a designation invented by officials at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board to describe "non-productive hours" in which workers didn't really do anything, but still were paid.
"In 2011, PTAB paralegals logged more than 27,000 hours to Other Time, and in 2012, nearly 26,000 hours," the report stated.
"Some paralegals were idle for so long that they stopped telling their supervisors when they ran out of work and just waited for their next assignment," the study read.
Part of the reason the paralegals were not doing much work was that there was a shortage of judges in the Patent and Trademark Office, a shortage that lasted much longer than exepcted - which then translated into paralegals without enough work to keep them busy.
Several paralegals charged more than half of their yearly hours to "Other Time" - with one acknowledging 66% of the work was in that category in 2011.
Instead of doing work, the paralegals told investigators that they used their time on the job to watch TV, surf the internet, exercise, shop online and do domestic work at home while on telework assignment.
Not doing much work, but still getting bonuses
In the report, the Inspector General says managers were well aware paralegals were not doing much work - but did nothing to change the situation.
"Worse, PTAB managers rewarded these paralegals - including those with extensive Other Time hours - with performance bonuses of thousands of dollars apiece," the report said.
In some cases, employees who logged more than half of their work hours as "Other Time," "received between $2,000 and $3,500 in performance awards each year."
Not only did the paralegals who weren't doing much work get bonuses, but their managers did too, receiving 'more than $87,000' between 2009 and 2013.
The report estimated that the lack of work translated into "the waste of federal resources of approximately $5.09 million" in the same four year period.
While the Inspector General praised whistleblower reports for shining light on these work practices, it took too long.
"We credit that one or more whistleblowers eventually alerted the OIG to the waste, although we recognize that no one came forward for more than three years as the Other Time problem grew," the report stated.