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Some White House Petitions Are Still Unanswered More Than a Year After Earning a Response [UPDATED]

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, August 13 2013

Since the launch of the White House's "We the People" e-petition site, 232 petitions have met their signature thresholds, which are supposed to trigger an official response from the administration. So far, 202 of those have been responded to, in an average of 61 days. Of the 30 unanswered petitions, the average wait time is a whopping 240 days, or eight months.

These delightful facts have been surfaced by Eli Dourado, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University. He built his new transparency site, WHPetitions.info, "because the list of successful petitions that are awaiting a reply seems like a glaring omission from the We The People site."

As he notes, "We The People displays petitions that are accumulating signatures, and it shows responses to petitions, but in between there is a purgatory into which petitions that the White House doesn't want to answer can disappear. My site tries to remedy that. Hopefully by showing the average time that the pending petitions have been waiting for an answer, I can nudge the White House to stay on top of their petition queue."

At the top of the list of long-unanswered petitions are ones that ask that all genetically modified foods be labeled; request an end to discrimination in the military against non-religious service members; seek to block the FDA from regulating "premium cigars"; and ask for final standards for gluten-free food labeling. Several ask the administration to wade into foreign policy disputes, such as a Japan-Korea tussle over some islands, or the tension between those two countries over Japan's abuse of "comfort women" during WWII.

Interestingly, since the White House raised the threshold for a response from 25,000 to 100,000 signatures, several hot topics have cleared that higher mark. Among them: a call to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group; a call to pardon Edward Snowden, a call to allow Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers in all fifty states.

WHPetitions.info is built using the new We the People API.

Last year, Dourado built WCITLeaks with his colleague Jerry Brito to bring transparency to the International Telecommunication Union. He says, "Promoting transparency is a good way to get government officials to do what they know they should be doing anyway."

UPDATE: White House spokesman Matt Lehrich had this to say about WHPetitions.info: "We the People allows Americans – for the first time ever – to petition the White House directly for responses on the issues they care about. Every petition that crosses the threshold is reviewed and receives a response. As the site notes, we do our best to respond to petitions that cross the signature threshold as quickly as possible, however, depending on the topic and the overall volume of petitions, response times vary. We welcome continued engagement from citizens using this important tool as well as from developers taking advantage of the API we have provided to foster open access to data about We the People."

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