Average Wait Time For A Response At Administration's 'We The People' Petition Site At 298 Days

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Comments on “Average Wait Time For A Response At Administration's 'We The People' Petition Site At 298 Days”

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31 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

You are being mean to the US Govt. They replied quite quickly to the petition concerning the construction of a Death Star. And they were spot on in denying building something like it as it could cause galactic diplomacy issues and planetary destruction (imagine if hackers found out that the initiation key for the uber zetta beamu cannon was 000000? Apocalypse!).

The unanswered petitions are obviously civilian gibberish, no need to pay them any attention =/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sadly this is proof positive that the Republicans and Democrats are in fact. The same party.

The republican nominees pretty much claimed they were going to do everything that is going on right now that we hate while Obama claimed he wouldn’t.

Time to start throwing our votes at a third party and hope for the best I suppose. What other options we got?
And honestly no, armed revolution is not an option.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The contra-policy has 2 aspects.
1: There are 3 chambers in government and unless you have a filibuster-proof majority, you have to make some compromises to get things done.
2: By taking your oppositions ideas and spin them slightly to account for your own constituencies you can make opposing counterproposals more extreme or paint your opposition as obstructionists/do nothings (or both as the government shutdown prooved!).

Voting for a third party president would be a waste. The way to change things is to vote third and fourth parties into congress first and thereby give them a platform.

Anonymous Coward says:

the point of the site is not for the administration to “look good”

If the shoe fits, wear it.

…Then again, at this point the site is making Obama look like a pathetic, sniveling coward who can’t bear to even consider the tough questions posed by the public, so I suppose making him look good is no longer the point either.
I guess at this point the site is basically a dead letter office for complaints about how badly the government is being run?

boomslang says:

Hold on a second here. These are fishy conclusions based on weak statistics.

First off, the assertion, “Counterintuitively, as the threshold has increased, so has the response time.” is simply incorrect given the numbers (unless I’m misreading):

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

Average wait after raising threshold, “Unanswered petitions posted after the threshold hike have been waiting 103 days for a response on average.”

Average wait prior to raising threshold, “Unanswered petitions posted before and after the threshold hike have been waiting 298 days, on average, for a response.”

This implies that average wait times prior to decreasing the threshold was LONGER as the combined before and after averages is 195 days LONGER than the average after raising the threshold.

Still, even that conclusion is ridiculous because the mixing of the datasets confuses the numbers. My guess is that there were more unanswered before the raise in threshold, and of course, those petitions submitted after the raise in threshold will have had a shorter waiting time because they were submitted later than those before the raise in threshold.

Further, there’s no mention of answered petitions, and until the unanswered are answered, we can’t determine ‘average time to respond’ in the general sense. Finally, all these numbers will be wrong tomorrow, because it will have been another day. We don’t know if they will be similar tomorrow, but we do know they will be wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Plus, another statistical factor hasn’t been considered: number of changes to full-time paid folks on staff at the time; drafting We The People responses, pushing them through official authorization from the presidents office, uploading to the website, etc.

If the procedure or headcount has evolved at all; comparison is apples V. oranges.

Anonymous Coward says:

“This implies that average wait times prior to decreasing the threshold was LONGER as the combined before and after averages is 195 days LONGER than the average after raising the threshold.”

I think it means those petitions have been around longer than those ones posted later but likewise still unanswered. It says nothing about how long it took to answer petitions prior to the threshold being increased.

Just Sayin' says:

Usual suspects

The real problem with the site is that the majority of the petitions are either jokes (almost meme level) or they come from the usual suspects, the professional whiners and complainers who make a living out of calling the government out on everything and anything.

The genetically modified foods petition is a perfect example. It’s an old issue, asked and answered any number of times already, and better taken up with your member of Congress directly. For the moment at least, there doesn’t seem to be enough public concern about the issue for anyone to make a move. The lack of any real identified risk for the moment puts most of the GMF people into the same category as people who blame vaccinations for autism. There is little science to back up their claims.

Perhaps the whitehouse just needs to have a standard “you are a bunch of cranks, go away” answer to clear up the backlog.

Anonymous Coward says:

A formalized popularity contest of persons is how a democracy elects it’s representatives.

A formalized popularity contest of ideas is NOT how those elected representatives decide what legislation & government policies to tinker with.

We The People is a bit of fun like a newspaper poll. It’s sets up some interesting talking points. It needn’t impact the Law.

Hold Feet To Fire says:

Respond to successful petitions within 30 days

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/respond-successful-petitions-within-30-days/ZHJ7nXqK

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:
Respond to successful petitions within 30 days
The Obama Administration created this site to give citizens official responses to issues they care about. The Terms of Participation page claims a response will be made “in a timely fashion” to petitions that meet the signature threshold within the designated period.

Currently, some petitions have remained unanswered for over two years. The worst case is a petition to “Require all Genetically Modified Foods to be labeled as such” that met its goal on October 23, 2011. As of December 20, 2013, 790 days later, there has still been no response. This makes a mockery of the petition process.

Please commit to respond to all successful petitions within 30 days, or else post a detailed justification for the delay and thereafter post weekly updates describing your progress toward a full response.

Created: Dec 16, 2013
Issues: Government Reform
Learn about Petition Thresholds
SIGNATURES NEEDED BY JANUARY 19, 2014 TO REACH GOAL OF 100,000 97,523
TOTAL SIGNATURES ON THIS PETITION 2,477

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