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.