May 03, 2019

Senator Hirono Applauds Patent and Trademark Office’s Decision to Extend Telework Program to Hawaii, Alaska

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) welcomed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO’s) announcement that it had extended its full-time telework program, the Telework Enhancement Act Pilot Program (TEAPP), to Hawaii and Alaska. The decision to extend TEAPP follows Senator Hirono’s questioning of PTO Director Andrei Iancu during a March 13, 2019 hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property about why Hawaii was excluded from the telework program.

“The PTO’s decision to include Hawaii and Alaska in its telework program was long overdue,” Senator Hirono said. “There was no rational justification for rendering Hawaii residents and Alaskans ineligible for TEAPP, which forced eligible employees to choose between residing on the mainland or taking on the huge expense and burden associated with monthly travel to their duty stations. Extending the telework program is a welcomed decision that will benefit current PTO employees in Hawaii and Alaska, and bring additional high-paying STEM jobs to our states.”

In April, Senators Hirono and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) sent a letter to Director Iancu requesting that the PTO either extend TEAPP to residents of Hawaii or provide a justification for why such an extension was not appropriate. The full text of the letter is available here. In response, the PTO issued a notice to employees on May 1, 2019 announcing that a pilot program had been launched allowing employees to telework full-time from Hawaii and Alaska.

Prior to this change, PTO employees based in Hawaii were forced to telework through the PTO’s “hoteling” program. Under this program, a teleworking employee must report to work at his or her assigned “duty station” – often PTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia – for at least two days per bi-weekly pay period. This monthly travel came at the employee’s expense and on the employee’s own time. TEAPP, in contrast, permits PTO employees that satisfy certain seniority and proficiency requirements to telework full-time so long as the employee has a speedy and secure internet connection.

With the addition of Hawaii and Alaska, approximately 2,850 PTO employees across 49 states and Puerto Rico participate in TEAPP. The program allows the PTO to expand its telework program beyond the local commuting area, improve recruitment, increase retention, and minimize the need to expand physical office space for an increased workforce.