US Patent Office Gets OK to Reimburse Teleworkers' Internet Fees

January 12, 2007 ( - Managers at the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) have gotten the green light to reimburse employees working outside the workplace for Internet access expenses.

The approval came from Government Accountability Office (GAO) General Counsel Gary Kepplinger who nonetheless advised Patent Office officials to keep an eye on the outside Internet access spending, according to a news report.

They should particularly make certain that government funds are only going to pay for Internet connections necessary for official tasks, Kepplinger asserted.

Agencies are allowed to cover half the costs if personal use amounts to less than 50% of total usage. Reimbursement payments would have to match what the agency would have been charged if it had purchases the service directly – up to $100 monthly.

Kepplinger based his decision on a federal law permitting government agencies to pay employees back for expenses incurred at home if those workers were authorized to telecommute including installation of phone lines and other “necessary equipment.”

The GAO official agreed with PTO that an Internet connection is an essential workplace tool, comparing it to the telephone.

In terms of required monitoring, the GAO said periodic reviews – including analyses of payment trends – would support PTO’s claim that adequate safeguards against misuse are in place as required under the law.

Copies of invoices from employees’ Internet service providers must be submitted and employees must indicate that the Internet connection will be used for work purposes.

PTO expects to have 3,300 employees participating in its telework program – one of the most extensive in the federal government – by 2011, according to news report.