The USPTO has had a fairly large attrition rate over the past 15 years. Part of the cause of the attrition has been within USPTO. However, I believe that the real driving forces have been (1) the private great demand during that time for patent law professionals; and (2) the fact that many of the USPTO new hires were young college graduates who expected to leave their first job within a couple of years.
Training of replacement examiners is slow and expensive and also frustrates patent applicants who expect a professional examination for their $1000+ fee.
Now that the private law market has shifted, the USPTO now sees its opportunity to hire experienced individuals — folks who will “hit the ground running” and who will likely be more stable in their life goals. As a first step, the USPTO is “reaching out to former patent examiners, inviting them to return to the agency.”
In a media quote, USPTO Director David Kappos said: “These examiners can have an immediate impact on the patent examination backlog and reducing the backlog is our top priority.”
The immediate limited program is focused on former examiners who passed their probationary requirements and who resigned less than three years ago or have more than three years experience examining patents. See www.USAJobs.gov (GS 9–14).