New bar for responding to We the People petitions may be too high

The White House could have overshot the mark when it raised the bar for an official response to petitions posted to its We the People website to 25,000 signatures in one month.

White House officials increased the threshold Oct. 3 after more than 30 petitions topped the original 5,000-signature barrier during the site's first week.

In more than two months since then, however, only two new petitions have crossed the 25,000 signature threshold. If that rate continues it could put the site's longevity into question.

One of the two petitions that's received more than 25,000 signatures asks government officials not to pass the E-Parasite Act, also known as the PROTECT IP Act. The measure would ramp up intellectual property protections for Internet content. That petition has received about 49,000 signatures since it was created Oct. 31.

The other petition, titled Actually Take These Petitions Seriously Instead of Just Using Them as an Excuse to Pretend You Are Listening, castigates the Obama administration for what the signers consider an ad hoc response to several earlier calls to legalize marijuana. It has received about 28,000 signatures since Oct. 28.

Some petitioners have complained that White House responses are formulaic or trite. White House Digital Strategy Director Macon Phillips has defended the site as an innovation in open communication between government and its citizens even if petitions don't lead to policy changes.

If the rate of one policy-focused petition reaching the response threshold every 10 weeks holds steady or drops, however, the site's reputation for two-way communication could suffer.

A Nextgov analysis in November found the site reached a narrow audience and that conservatives especially had not adopted the site as a venue for political discourse.

Five other petitions created before the threshold was raised have topped the 25,000 mark, including one marijuana legalization petition, which received about 74,000 signatures, the most of any petition on the site to date. Those requests were all grandfathered into the 5,000 signature threshold, however.

Of those five, White House officials already have responded to three, including the bid for marijuana legalization. Petitioners are awaiting responses to two others, one asking officials to abolish the Transportation Security Administration and another asking the president to halt industrial dog breeding operations or puppy mills.

The White House has published 22 We the People responses since Oct. 26, mostly during the month of November, but hasn't published any responses since Dec. 1.