The Obama Administration started the We the People petition process in 2011. If a petition reaches a set signature threshold within a set time period (currently 100,000 signatures within 30 days), then the Administration guarantees that it will respond to that petition. It doesn’t guarantee what that action will be (and it will be unable to act in certain circumstances), which likely disappoints many petitioners and signers.
Another issue that draws complaints is the timeliness of the Administration’s responses. One of a series of changes announced today will attempt to address this. In releasing responses to 20 petitions today, the Administration has cleared its backlog, and has now responded to all 275 petitions that met the signature threshold. Going forward, the Administration intends to respond to all petitions that meet the threshold within 60 days (the specific language allows for some wiggle room).
In addition, the petition platform will become more open. The Change.org petition website will integrate with We the People, and the code supporting petitions.whitehouse.gov will soon be available on Drupal and Github. This will enable other governments to make use of this code for their own purposes.
While it is easy to be skeptical, if not cynical, of the utility of such petitions, the White House has cited a We the People petition as an important part of why it supported reversing a Library of Congress decision that made cell phone unlocking illegal in the U.S. It also credited the petition site for other Administration actions, as it describes on the White House website.
I note that a few of the 20 petitions responses released today deal with science and/or technology matters. I’ll dive into those responses over the next week or so.