In this day of trillions of dollars in national debt, should any government agency be given free reign to spend as it sees fit, without any oversight from Congress? That's exactly what Congress is on the verge of doing for the Patent Office. Thankfully some members of the House are standing up against the move.
One of the least discussed, and perhaps most arcane, provisions of the currently pending patent reform legislation in Congress known as the "American Invents Act," H.R. 1249 would dramatically change the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO)'s financial operations. In essence, the proposal would allow the PTO to collect any fees it wants and spend that money however it wants, without any Congressional oversight whatsoever. I wish I was kidding, but unfortunately I'm not.
Thankfully, Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, and Harold Rogers (R-KY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, recently wrote a letter to Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the Judiciary Committee responsible for the bill, expressing their dismay at this proposal as follows:
We strongly oppose this proposed shift of billions in discretionary funding and fee collections to mandatory spending. Putting PTO funding on auto-pilot is a move in exactly the wrong direction, given the new Republican majority's commitment to restraining spending, improving accountability and transparency, and reducing the nation's unparalleled deficits and debt.
Beyond calling out the fiscal irresponsibility of such a move, the Congressmen also decried the bill's failure to comply with core Republican positions taken in opposition to President Obama on budget issues.
Placing PTO spending on mandatory auto-pilot as outlined in H.R. 1249 would also hand the Congressional "power of the purse" -- bestowed in the Constitution -- to the Obama White House, and essentially eliminate the ability of Congress to perform substantive oversight of the PTO. We strongly oppose undermining these critical efforts, particularly when House Republicans have pledged to strengthen oversight of federal agencies to ensure resources are being used wisely and appropriately, and to prevent federal agencies from over-stepping their authority.
Ryan and Rogers have it completely correct. Government fiscal responsibility doesn't result from less oversight. It requires more scrutiny to ensure we as Americans are getting our dollars worth from our agencies. As they put it, "Oversight of the PTO belongs with the Congress, and should not be abdicated to the Executive Branch of government."
Kudos to Mr. Ryan and Rogers for introducing reasonableness into what has clearly been a politically motivated closed-door process of trying to sneak through ill-advised changes to our patent system. I hope more principled Representatives join with them in calling for an end to any proposal that would let any government agency raise and spend money however it sees fit. Isn't unbridled government spending part of what has gotten us into this financial mess in the first place?