Emerging Tech

We the People petitioners typically wait three months for a reply

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

On average, it takes White House officials nearly three months to pen responses to citizen petitions filed on its We the People website, once those petitions cross the threshold for an official reply.

The average wait time dropped markedly, though, after the White House raised its threshold for a petition response from 5,000 to 25,000 signatures in a month just a few weeks after We the People first went online.

It took administration officials an average of 108 days to respond to petitions submitted under the 5,000 signature barrier but just 54 days to respond to petitions that crossed the 25,000 signature threshold, according to a Nextgov analysis.

President Obama described We the People as a “a direct line to the White House on the issues and concerns that matter most” when his administration unveiled the site in September 2011. Petitioners have given the site mixed reviews, often complaining that popular petitions rarely lead officials to reconsider even minor policy positions.

The most popular petitions on the site so far called for various states to secede from the union after President Obama’s reelection or dealt with the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead.

The White House raised its response threshold again on Jan. 16, this time to 100,000 signatures. White House Digital Strategy Director Macon Phillips cited the challenge of providing “timely and meaningful responses to petitions” when announcing both threshold hikes. Only a handful of petitions have received more than 100,000 signatures since We the People was first launched in September 2011.

While the White House’s response time has improved since We the People was first launched, the average length of time petitioners wait for a response has always varied widely, Nextgov’s analysis found. A collection of petitions to legalize marijuana filed on We the People’s first day online waited just 36 days for a response while petitions filed the same day to repeal the Patriot Act waited 212 days, or about seven months.

More recently, a January 2012 petition asking the president to nominate new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission waited roughly 10 months for a response while a December 2011 petition asking the administration to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act waited just 23 days.

Petitions that have crossed the threshold for a White House response but not receive one yet have been waiting 61 days on average, according to Nextgov’s analysis. That includes three petitions from the site’s first week online that have been waiting more than 15 months. They seek Palestinian membership in the United Nations, legal protections for atheists and agnostics in the military and mandatory labels for genetically modified foods.

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// October 23
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