Over Easy: “We the People” Gets Pwned
Last January at Over Easy, the topic of the day was the success or failure of the We the People website the Obama administration touted as a way for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard.
As of January 2014 there are at least 30 “We the People” petitions that have crossed the 100K threshold for an official White House reply, but have not gotten one, including eight that have been queued up for more than a year. Unanswered petitions have been waiting nearly ten months on average for a reply, according to a Nextgov analysis.
It seems that some of those ordinary citizens are getting a bit tired of petitions going unanswered and essentially being ignored. A new petition went up on Tuesday, and I don’t think it was entirely an April Fool’s prank:
Whitehouse.gov petitions were intended to give the public a voice. The idea is that if more than 100,000 people all feel strongly enough about something to hand over their home address and personal email to the government and complete a nearly impossible CAPTCHA, then the President of the United States should have to respond to them. Because… democracy.
Here’s the problem: there are dozens of Whitehouse.gov petitions that have received more than 100k signatures, but have gone months and even years without a response (1). That’s not improving transparency, it’s the same gov’t spin we’ve always had. So what will it, Obama, hypocrisy or democracy? Sign!
Some petitions appear to have taken up permanent residence in the administration’s “ignore this one” pile, while others well below the 100K signature threshold have been answered — either because the administration has a canned response all ready to go, or it wants to put out a talking point so it makes an extra effort.
Some of the others waiting for response demand more thoughtful answers, or responding would force the administration to take a public position on a controversial subject it would much rather avoid. The average wait for a response now has slipped to nearly 300 days. Some of the petitions the White House is still actively ignoring deal with pardoning Edward Snowden, or firing District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who prosecuted Aaron Swartz.
This new petition puts the administration in a position of having to agree to address petitions in a more timely manner. The Obama administration won’t like this if it intends to ignore some “uncomfortable” petitions until they’re out of office in 2016.
It’s quite possible that this petition was intended as an April Fool’s joke, but it makes a valid point nonetheless. So far it is a very long way from 100,000 signatures, so the White House is free to ignore it, which is exactly what it is likely to do.
We the People logo via Whitehouse.gov, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States license.