Several petitions that were started on the White House’s We the People website were making their rounds among the federal workforce recently. Regular visitors to FedSmith.com will certainly remember the petition started to get Black Friday off or the one that asked the White House to provide federal employees with a “meaningful” pay raise.
While these petitions ultimately were unsuccessful in getting the required number of signatures, the practice has been one increasingly utilized by federal workers since the We the People website was launched to voice their concerns to the White House.
As we reported a few years ago, one of those Christmas holiday petitions may have actually had an impact on leading to the extra day off (see White House Responds to Petition for Christmas Eve Holiday).
Given this background, federal employees may be interested to know about some changes the White House has announced that it made recently with regards to its We the People website for submitting online petitions.
As the popularity of petitioning the government through the We the People website continues to grow, the site and its features have expanded over time. I wrote a few years ago about how the threshold for the required signatures to get a response on a petition went from 25,000 to 100,000.
The latest round of changes include two items likely to be of most interest to would be petitioners among the federal workforce.
One is that the White House is going to put more of a focus on its response time to petitions. Specifically, if a petition reaches the 100,000 signature mark, the staff will aim to provide a response within 60 days, and perhaps most importantly, that they will in fact provide a response. The blog post discussing these changes noted that there was a backlog on responding to some petitions but it has since caught up with them, something the White House hopes to avoid in the future.
Related to this, the White House said that to help with responding to the petitions, it has put together a team of people to handle them. This group will be “responsible for taking your questions and requests and bringing them to the right people — whether within the White House or in an agency within the Administration — who may be in a position to say something about your request.”
The White House also stressed that it will strive to be honest in the responses it provides to petitions:
You might not always be happy with what you hear from us, but we’ll be upfront with you about why we can’t take action on a given issue if we can’t — or about why we’re choosing not to. If there’s genuinely nothing we can do, we’re going to let you know. If we agree with you, we’ll let you know. If we’re working on it, we’ll tell you that. And we’ll keep you posted with additional details and related content that we think you might be interested in along the way.
The White House has also been proactive about keeping an open framework for the We the People website to bolster publicity for the open petitions. They opened up the code for the site and also have an API to let developers write applications using petition data which gives would-be petitioners a potentially larger audience.