- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2014

A commissioner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) threatened to sue a government watchdog agency that revealed the woman pressured staff to hire the live-in boyfriend of an immediate relative, a congressman said Friday.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, Texas Republican, didn’t mention Trademark Commissioner Deborah Cohn by name, but he clearly referenced her when summarizing a report by the Commerce Department inspector general at a hearing Friday. The report found she helped an applicant — the live-in boyfriend of a close relative — land an attorney’s job in the agency despite being ranked at the bottom of the pool of applicants.

The Washington Times obtained an unredacted copy of the report on Thursday through the Freedom of Information Act.

At a hearing on problems in the federal government’s Senior Executive Service, Mr. Farenthold said the executive who was the subject of the inspector general’s probe had threatened to sue the IG’s office for making the report public.

The Patent Office’s public affairs office declined to comment or make Ms. Cohn available for an interview after The Times confirmed she was the subject of the IG’s misconduct probe. Officials also declined to comment Friday concerning Mr. Farenthold’s disclosure.

The inspector general’s report said the investigation found Ms. Cohn broke several ethics rules while revealing broader problems about the Patent Office’s hiring practices.

“Our investigation substantiated the whistleblower’s allegations that not only did the USPTO executive exert undue influence in the hiring process, but that the applicant was not among the most qualified candidates as determined by the USPTO hiring officials,” Inspector General Todd Zinser said in a statement.

“After the applicant was rejected, the USPTO executive intervened and created an additional position specifically for the applicant,” he said.

Ms. Cohn pushed to hire the relative’s live-in boyfriend even after subordinates had concluded that he wasn’t as qualified as other dozens of other applicants for the job of an examining attorney.

More than 700 candidates applied for the job, and the boyfriend didn’t even qualify to get past the first round of screening, which winnowed the list down to about 250 candidates, the inspector general said.

Todd Elmer, chief communications officer for the Patent Office, said in a statement Thursday that officials “appreciate the seriousness” of the inspector general’s report. The statement was issued before The Times obtained the unredacted report revealing Ms. Cohn as the subject of the IG investigation.

He said officials are studying the report and determining “next steps.”

“In the meantime, the agency remains laser-focused on continuing to ensure an impartial, fair and transparent hiring process, which is audited annually by the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Commerce,” Mr. Elmer said.

“The most recent audit concluded those practices were conducted efficiently, consistently, and in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and veterans preference requirements.”

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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