Imagine, if you will, a world where you’re able to do absolutely nothing but surf the internet, watch all the daytime TV you can stand, go on as many online shopping sprees as your wallet will allow, and like and comment on every Facebook status in the world, all while being paid your regular salary (ranging from $60,000 to $80,000), and maintaining performance-based bonus eligibility (with awards ranging from $2,000 to $3,500).
If you think that sounds great, then maybe you should apply to become a paralegal specialist for the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), because that judicial body apparently wasted up to $5.09 million on salary payments for what was nothing more than paralegal playtime.
Ain’t life grand as a federal employee?
According to an investigative report compiled by the Inspector General’s Office of the Department of Commerce, from 2009 to 2013, during a time when there was an enormous backlog of cases, paralegal specialists at PTAB typically logged 50-70 hours of “non-production time” for each 80-hour pay period.
These 50-some paralegal specialists were being paid to do nothing due to a federal hiring freeze that was instituted in 2009. There were simply not enough judges to assign tasks to them, so the backlog of cases continued to grow and grow while they billed for “Other Time” and leveled up in Candy Crush.
During hours billed as “Other Time” — which one employee described as the “I don’t have work but I’m going to get paid code” — tasks performed by PTAB paralegal specialists included, but were not limited to:
- watching television;
- surfing the internet;
- using social media, such as Facebook;
- performing volunteer work for a charity from home;
- washing laundry;
- exercising at home;
- reading books, the news, and magazines;
- shopping online; and
- cleaning dishes.
You know you’re jealous these people were receiving a salary, plus bonuses, for their “outstanding work.”
The Washington Post covered the story, and noted that department managers were not at all surprised that their paralegal specialists were fooling around online on the government’s dime. A chief judge who was interviewed by the Inspector General’s Office seemed to laugh off the situation, saying, “I almost don’t blame [the Paralegal Specialists] for watching TV, because, I mean, you’re sitting around for 800 hours.”
If this doesn’t upset you, stop and think about what would happen to you if your supervisors discovered you weren’t doing any work. If you think you could get away with billing for time spent watching Judge Judy instead of reviewing the latest batch of documents that landed on your desk, you’d better think again.
Taxpayers, are you enjoying how your hard-earned money’s being spent? We didn’t think so.
Investigative Report: Review of Waste and Mismanagement at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board
[U.S. Department of Commerce (PDF)]
Federal paralegals had no work, so they surfed the Internet [Washington Post]
Government paralegals making up to $80K had little work to do, report says [ABA Journal]