Patent and Trademark Office:

Key Processes for Managing Automated Patent System Development Are Weak

AIMD-93-15: Published: Sep 30, 1993. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Patent and Trademark Office's (PTO) Automated Patent System (APS), focusing on whether PTO can adequately: (1) establish cost, benefit, and schedule baselines; and (2) monitor progress against these baselines.

GAO found that: (1) PTO has adopted an evolutionary system approach that recognizes risks and uncertainties and develops system phases incrementally; (2) PTO system management controls are weak and PTO does not have a process for demonstrating that APS incremental development is worth the cost of investment; (3) the reliability of APS cost and schedule baselines is questionable because of weaknesses in the techniques PTO uses to establish these baselines; (4) APS schedule baselines are not linked to cost estimates; (5) PTO tracking of cost performance is limited; and (6) PTO inability to effectively measure progress against defined goals and the lack of management controls result in major investment decisions based upon uncertain system benefits, cost and schedule baselines, and performance.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Commissioner, PTO, immediately establishes a process that: (1) identifies expected benefits to internal and external users in justifying each new APS increment before investing money in that increment; (2) establishes performance measures for these expected benefits; and (3) measures attainment of the expected benefits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: PTO implemented a process in 1994 that identifies benefits of new APS projects before they are started, establishes measures to identify successes, and evaluates the attainment of benefits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Commissioner, PTO, immediately implements a rigorous, systematic, and repeatable process for estimating APS costs. This process should: (1) retain original and revised cost estimates, as well as data comparing actual performance against these estimates; (2) analyze reasons for deviations; and (3) allow adjustments to the estimation process based on this analysis of deviations. These cost estimates should be reflected in PTO budget planning documents.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: PTO has implemented a rigorous, systematic, and repeatable process for estimating and capturing actual APS costs. The agency is also tracking why estimates change, comparing plans with actuals and providing reasons for variances.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should ensure that the Commissioner, PTO, immediately links APS system-level cost baselines (incorporating task orders, in-house activities, and indirect costs) and schedule baselines, and monitor progress against these baselines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: PTO modified existing tools to link cost and schedule baselines. Project teams use this system to monitor progress against baselines.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should require the Commissioner, PTO, to use the resulting information to determine whether PTO plans for APS are justified. The results of this analysis should be reported to PTO House and Senate authorization and appropriation committees.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: PTO sent a package of information fulfilling this recommendation to the House and Senate committees.

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