Reinventing Federal Government: The Patent and Trademark Office Experience

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Every so many years, a new method for managing government operations emerges and, when this occurs, managers either embrace it, are forced to adopt it or try to outlive it. Similar to other changes in financial and management practices in the federal public sector that have come before it (Zero-Base Budgeting, Planning-Programming-Budgeting System (PPRS), Managing by Objectives (MBO), and Total Quality Management (TQM), reinventing government efforts initially received a lukewarm reception as well.

However, unlike previous changes in management philosophy, reinvention efforts have advocacy grounded in law. Recently enacted laws include the Chief Financial Officer's (CFO) Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-576); the Government Performance Act (GPRA) of 1993, now referred to as the "Results Act" (P.L. 103-62); the Federal Streamline Acquisition Act (FASA) of 1994 (P.L. 103-355); the Government Management Reform Act (GMRA) of 1994; and the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA) of 1996 (P.L. 104-106).

Today, most managers in the public sector would agree with Koskinen, Deputy Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), that "more legislation has passed in the last three years (1993-1996) affecting federal sector management than in recent administrations" (Sperry, 1996:65). It is this litany of new laws that is providing the theoretical framework needed for reinventing government and which is now so prevalent throughout the public sector. Many of these new laws have been conducive to the numerous change efforts occurring throughout the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), all of which have been eagerly adopted and enthusiastically embraced.

The PTO is one of the government's pathfinders in vying to become one of the federal government's first performance-based organizations. The idea of setting the PTP free from bureaucratic standards has been viewed as controversial as some argue that, because the PTO's core government function is found in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8), the agency should not seek the freedom which would provide it full autonomy from bureaucratic guidelines. Nevertheless, the "PTO set its sights on this goal more than a decade ago" (Sanders and Thompson, 1997: 46).

This article will review one federal agency's efforts to reinvent itself. The agency background section of this article gives a general discussion of the PTO's character and an introduction to the early migration of the PTO towards an entrepreneurial philosophy of improving customer service and product delivery. Section three will provide some insight into why the agency was compelled to choose this path. Section four gives a general background on the two public laws that provide the foundation for many of PTO's change efforts. Section five provides an enhanced discussion of PTO's experiences as a GPRA pilot and its efforts to reengineer its budget and planning processes. The conclusion entails a discussion of how change can occur in the federal sector despite inherent bureaucratic barriers.

AGENCY BACKGROUND

Small in size, huge in impact, the PTO is the steward for the nation's patent and trademark system. Two hundred and eight years old, the PTO has maintained its basic role and focus of providing protection for one of the nation's most treasured and unique resources-intellectual property which encompasses the ideas and inventions developed in the minds of the individuals that, when taken to market, enhance and improve the lives of those who benefit from these creations. Those benefits are derived either directly or indirectly. For example, the holder of a patent grant or trademark registration receives direct benefit via ownership and, respectively, patent or trademark protection. Many holders of patent grants or trademark registrations also derive wealth from their ideas and inventions. Those who use and prosper from new ideas and inventions, taken to the marketplace, benefit indirectly. …