It seems that one initiative at the USPTO did manage to escape the chopping block following the USPTO budget announcement last month. The USPTO announced yesterday that they would be expanding the Enhanced First Action Interview Pilot Program.
Under the previous program, applications were required to meet certain filing date and art unit requisites in order to be eligible. The new program, entitled the Full First Action Interview Pilot Program, is available to all technologies and filing dates. Upon request, applicants are entitled to a first action interview prior to the first Office Action on the merits. Further details on this program can be found here.
Increased communication between applicant and examiner is one obvious benefit to this program. Results from the Enhanced First Action Interview Pilot Program show that 34% of participating applications were allowed on the first action on the merits, compared to only 11% for non-continuing applications. With pending applications piling up at the USPTO, any program that gets a few applications through the system quicker is a welcome sight.