White House Owes Responses to 30 We the People Petitions

The unanswered petitions that have crossed the threshold for an official reply have been waiting nearly 10 months on average.

National Journal
Joseph Marks, Nextgov
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Joseph Marks, Nextgov
Jan. 3, 2014, 9:12 a.m.

As the White House’s We the People pe­ti­tion site enters its fourth cal­en­dar year, many pe­ti­tion­ers are still wait­ing for the re­sponse they were prom­ised.

There are cur­rently 30 We the People pe­ti­tions that have crossed the threshold for an of­fi­cial White House reply but not yet got­ten one, in­clud­ing eight that have been wait­ing more than one year. Those un­answered pe­ti­tions have been wait­ing nearly 10 months on av­er­age for a reply, ac­cord­ing to a Nex­t­gov ana­lys­is.

One of those pe­ti­tions, seek­ing to re­quire la­beling of all ge­net­ic­ally mod­i­fied foods, has been wait­ing since just one month after We the People launched On Sept. 23, 2011.

On that launch day Pres­id­ent Obama de­scribed We the People as a “a dir­ect line to the White House on the is­sues and con­cerns that mat­ter most” and prom­ised White House of­fi­cials would re­spond to any pe­ti­tion that re­ceived 5,000 sig­na­tures or more. That threshold grew to 25,000 and then 100,000 sig­na­tures as the site be­came more pop­u­lar.

Of­fi­cials have pos­ted 134 re­sponses Since We the People launched, of­ten re­spond­ing to mul­tiple pe­ti­tions at once. The site has re­ceived mixed re­views from pe­ti­tion­ers. Some have com­plained that the White House posts pro forma re­sponses and rarely seems to take pe­ti­tions in­to con­sid­er­a­tion when for­mu­lat­ing policy changes. Oth­ers have said they were glad to use We the People as a plat­form to raise aware­ness about an is­sue.

The un­answered pe­ti­tions in­clude one ask­ing the pres­id­ent to fire the U.S. At­tor­ney who led the pro­sec­u­tion of In­ter­net act­iv­ist Aaron Swartz and one to par­don the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency doc­u­ments leak­er Ed­ward Snowden. Swartz com­mit­ted sui­cide be­fore fa­cing tri­al and Snowden has re­ceived tem­por­ary asylum in Rus­sia.

The total num­ber of un­answered pe­ti­tions has dropped since the White House raised the threshold to 100,000 sig­na­tures in Janu­ary 2013 but the av­er­age wait time for un­answered pe­ti­tions has grown sig­ni­fic­antly longer.

Pe­ti­tions that had crossed the threshold but not re­ceived a re­sponse around the time the threshold was raised had been wait­ing about two months on av­er­age.

Among the reas­ons for rais­ing the threshold, the White House cited a de­sire to provide time­li­er and high­er qual­ity pe­ti­tion re­sponses.

Of the 30 un­answered pe­ti­tions cur­rently pos­ted to We the People, 11 were pos­ted after the threshold was raised to 100,000 sig­na­tures and 19 were pos­ted be­fore the threshold was raised to that level.

Un­answered pe­ti­tions pos­ted after the threshold hike have been wait­ing 103 days for a re­sponse on av­er­age.

Un­answered pe­ti­tions pos­ted be­fore and after the threshold hike have been wait­ing 298 days, on av­er­age, for a re­sponse. That’s es­sen­tially un­changed from an Au­gust 2013 re­view by Eli Dourado, a tech­no­logy re­search fel­low at George Ma­son Uni­versity’s Mer­catus Cen­ter. Dourado’s re­view found 29 un­answered pe­ti­tions that had been wait­ing 306 days on av­er­age.

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