As we all look back on the past year, certainly it has been an interesting one. As many of our colleagues both inside and outside of the agency have said, what we do here at the USPTO matters to people and the economy.
IT challenges continue as many of us experience intermittent problems with X-Search, access to the VPN and other systems. We have been asking management for information about when the problems will be fixed.
Congress passed yet another Continuing Resolution to maintain current levels of agency funding in the federal government until midnight on December 16. The past year has also presented an economic challenge for the agency as fee monies were down for both Trademarks and Patents, requiring the agency to dip significantly into our operating reserves to keep our various initiatives running.
As our telework program came under increased scrutiny by Congress, and the IG’s Office, and negative treatment by some in the press, representatives from management and all three unions met to clarify our time and attendance policies. After many discussions pointing out that we already had very detailed policies and requirements in place, all 3 unions agreed that full-time teleworkers must provide advance notice of their work schedules and must use collaborations tools and be connected to PTONet when it is available and functioning. We did this in advance of the positive NAPA report that came out noting there is, “no differences between the teleworkers and non-teleworkers in their performance and conduct.”
Our TEAPP program is also touted by the agency as a success for both employees and the agency. Total TEAPP mandatory trips for the entire agency for FY2014 and FY2015 were 87 trips by individual participants. TM Management proposes to significantly increase this number by requiring all 133 Trademark TEAPP participants to come into the Office next spring for a “homecoming” to encourage “reconnection and collaboration.” NTEU 245 thinks it is important to note that TEAPP participants must pay out of their own pockets for this mandatory trip to campus. Trademark employees who chose to change their duty station to participate in TEAPP may be subject to adjustments in their locality pay, unlike Patents employees who receive a significantly higher rate of pay under their “national” pay scale. In FY 2014, based on Trademark examining attorneys currently participating in TEAPP, NTEU 245 attorneys saved the Office considerable money in salary differentials as opposed to our Patent examining counterparts. We also have an 18 year history of telework with the Office and our use of those remote connections and collaboration tools by our attorneys have served the Office well. When there are truly necessary reasons for the Office to call people back in that cannot be otherwise done remotely, and that are necessary for doing our jobs, the Office should take those opportunities to have people reconnect and collaborate. Putting such a burdensome requirement on our employees brings into question whether the Office has the proper respect and consideration of employees’ financial and personal obligations and for our professionalism.
NTEU 245 encourages you to let the agency know your views by completing the 2015 People Survey. This survey is sent to every single USPTO employee and offers you the opportunity to provide feedback to Trademark leadership anonymously. You should have received an individualized link for survey participation from the contractor Sirota. Remember, your responses are confidential. One hour of non-production time will be granted to employees who participate in the survey. Employees may use ACORPI-0041-A00001 to record their time taking the survey.
Your feedback may very well help to make a difference in how we all experience the year ahead.
/M. Catherine Faint/