from the government-crushes-idealists,-film-at-11 dept
The We the People site set up by the Obama administration gave American citizens a more direct way to petition their government. The ideal propelling it was noble, but it has failed spectacularly in execution. As we've noted before, various petitions have gone unanswered for months after hitting the signature threshold.
The threshold itself has been raised a handful of times as well (from 5,000 to 25,000 to 100,000 as the site increased in popularity), ostensibly to weed out petitions that weren't truly representative of the population. This should have made the administration's job easier. A higher threshold means fewer petitions requiring an answer, and those that surpass the threshold should (although it's not always the case) be of higher quality.
Counterintuitively, as the threshold has increased, so has the response time. (h/t to Techdirt reader Neppe)
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.What the site was supposed to be (responsive) and what it's turned out to be (a mostly empty gesture) tracks with the administration's continual failure to uphold its own stated ideals. The "most transparent administration in history" has advanced and expanded Bush-era policies that added layers of opacity to the government's inner workings in order to further subvert the notion that a government should be accountable to its constituents. The administration has also prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined, further widening the gap between those who govern and those that are governed.
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.
It appears that any petition not deemed a "softball" or that can't be handled by a canned policy statement is backburnered. One of the first petitions to gather enough signatures (requiring labeling of genetically modified foods) has been waiting since September 2011 for an answer. More recent petitions appear to headed down that same road.
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.The Swartz petition will hit a year of being ignored within a month. The Snowden petition is headed into its seventh month without an answer.
It's not as though it's impossible for the administration to answer these in a timely fashion. While the answers given to each of these petitions would probably be unpopular, the point of the site is not for the administration to "look good" but rather to increase its direct communication with the public. The administration also needs to keep in mind that canned policy statements that ignore or only very indirectly address the petitions' subject matter is not "communication."
When petitioners are waiting nearly a year to have their issues addressed, the "offer" of a direct line to the government is effectively empty.