WASHINGTON (05/02/2000) - Work force- and technology- related changes at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office appear to have broad support since USPTO officially became a performance-based organization (PBO) in March.
USPTO has become a discrete management unit that must focus on setting and meeting goals for performance, but as a PBO, it is given more management and procurement flexibility to reach those objectives. Many say that changing an agency's status is not a prerequisite for improving performance. But the PBO designation enables USPTO to look at managing "with a new lens" and forces it to rethink the way it operates, said John Kamensky, deputy director at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, which launched the PBO concept. USPTO is the second and largest PBO in government. The Education Department's Office of Student Financial Assistance Programs is the other.
The Commerce Department still directs intellectual-property policy but not the day-to-day operations of USPTO. "It's separating in many ways the intellectual-property policy from the running of the factory," which includes examining patent and trademark applications, registering trademarks and granting patents, said Dennis Shaw, chief information officer at USPTO.
In addition, USPTO no longer has to go through a Commerce review process before implementing information technology projects.
Commerce oversight has been replaced with a patent board and a trademark board.
There is a USPTO director, a commissioner for patents and a commissioner for trademarks. The two commissioners are not political appointees but are hired for five-year terms and have performance plans with the Commerce secretary that include incentives such as bonuses tied to business goals. The performance plans of the CIO and other senior executives will be linked to the performance plans of the two commissioners.
Amid all the changes, funding is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the agency, which receives its revenue from fees. Much of that revenue is turned over to the Office of Management and Budget. The PBO legislation allowed the agency to set up its own procurement system but did not exempt it from the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.
Already, Q. Todd Dickinson, director of USPTO and undersecretary of Commerce for intellectual property, has made changes that impact the work force. For example, he eliminated the requirement that employees sign in and out on time sheets, extended the hours that employees could work under flexible work schedules and created the ability to split the workday into two shifts so that employees can run errands or take care of children.
Changes in IT also are under way. USPTO plans to develop more meaningful service-level agreements to guarantee a certain level of service to its internal customers, Shaw said. It also plans to improve how it allocates costs for specific services.
"Both those things would be done whether you're a PBO or not," he said. "A PBO gives us more push to get them done. It heightens the urgency."
Ronald Stern, president of the Patent Office Professional Association, the professional labor union for patent examiners, said he does not anticipate the PBO designation having any impact on the agency.
"The agency has always been conscious of performance and productivity, so it has always been a PBO," Stern said. "It's business as usual, but business as usual in a dynamic organization. It's Îwow' business as usual. We are in a phase of huge expansion, and that makes this a place for opportunities."
Stern credits Dickinson with creating a sense of excitement and establishing a vision for the agency. "This director wants to be dynamic," he said.
Recipe for PBO
Agencies with operations that do not have clear, measurable results are not suited to become performance-based organizations. For example, the foreign policy and planning offices in the State Department or basic scientific research offices at the National Institutes of Health may be inappropriate candidates.
Here are the prerequisites for becoming a PBO:
-- Have a clear mission, measurable services and a performance measurement system in place or in development. n Have a focus on external, not internal, customers.
-- Have a clear line of accountability to an agency head who has responsibility for policy functions.
-- Have top-level support for transfering a function into a PBO.
-- Have predictable sources of funding.
Source: National Partnership for Reinventing Government