White House on Petitions: We’re Listening. Seriously.

By Macon Phillips, Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Digital Strategy

Back in September when we launched the We the People petitions platform, we really weren’t sure what to expect. This kind of online engagement was brand new for the U.S. Government, but it quickly became clear that there were thousands of Americans across the country who were eager to tell the Obama Administration about the issues they care about most.

From the beginning, we promised that every petition that crosses the signature threshold will be reviewed by policy experts in the Administration. Each of the 97 petitions that have crossed the signature threshold so far have been carefully reviewed by experts here at the White House and in agencies across the federal government, and the majority have already been answered, with more coming every week.

To help you better understand how we review petitions and create responses, we put together this short video

We may not agree with the policy views expressed in every petition (for example, we believe we do take these petitions seriously!), and gathering enough signatures to meet the signature threshold does not guarantee that the Administration will change our policy on a specific topic. But in many cases, petitions posted on We the People have helped spur discussions of important policy issues here at the White House and across the Administration, and we’ve used the We the People platform to announce changes in policy or continue a dialogue with people who have an interest in the issue.

For example, in January, the White House outlined what we will and will not support when it comes legislative approaches to combat online piracy in response to two petitions. The popularity of these two petitions helped to spur a discussion among policy experts at the White House that eventually led to the response.

In September, a group of animal rights activists started a petition asking the Obama Administration to crack down on commercial breeders who sell puppies online. In response to this petition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that they were in the process of developing a proposed rule that would cover internet breeders under the Animal Welfare Act.

Another petition asking the Obama Administration to digitize federal records caught the attention of the National Archives and Records Administration. In response to that petition, David Ferrero, the Archivist of the United States, held a conference call with petition signers to get their ideas on how to move forward and how to prioritize which records were digitized first.

These are just a few examples of the many ways that the We the People platform has contributed to policy discussions that have taken place throughout the Administration, and we’re looking forward to many more to come.

The bottom line is that launching We the People is another step we’ve taken to harness the power of the internet to include more Americans in the work of the White House. We’re the first to admit there’s more to do — and we could use your help figuring out how we can improve. You can submit your feedback here or using the #WHWeb hashtag on Twitter.

Thanks for taking the time to participate in We the People. We look forward to hearing from you again.

Check out this response on We the People.

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