There’s a petition over on the White House website to “Require the Transportation Security Administration to Follow the Law!” A federal appeals court ordered the TSA to do some stuff a year ago and they still haven’t done it. Unlike most meaningless Internet petitions, if this petition gets to 25,000 signatures in 30 days the White House will issue a response – and it’s already about halfway there after five days.
The Obama administration has done a lot of terrible things for transparency in government (see #46-#64, among others), but this petition site is one of the few great things they have done to enhance the diminishing connection between the government and its citizens. Anyone can submit a petition for something, and if it gets enough “signatures,” the White House responds.
Of course, it doesn’t mean the administration will actually do what the petition requested, and the responses are often little more than fancy press releases for Obama’s position on the question at hand, especially when it’s vague enough and/or outside of the president’s scope (see, for instance, the response to “Restore Democracy by Ending Corporate Personhood“). There’s also an expected status quo bias; it’s going to take a lot more than 29,000 liberal activists to get Rush Limbaugh off Armed Forces Radio. And there’s no guarantee that the White House won’t make it harder to get these responses; they changed the signature requirement from 5,000 to 25,000 a few months ago to filter more extraneous requests, and they may change it again.
Still, it’s pretty awesome that citizens can now force their federal government to at least say something about almost any topic if enough individual people think it’s important. During the intense SOPA fight a few months ago, the White House had essentially remained neutral, but over 50,000 signatures forced the Obama administration to take a position, leading to a fairly encouraging response that may have helped in the bill’s defeat.
So I’m interested to see how they will respond to this TSA petition. Some petitions are vague; this one is very specific. Some petitions don’t really have much to do with Obama; the TSA is completely under his jurisdiction. Some petitions want Obama to do something based on their ideological beliefs; this petition wants Obama to do something based on an order from the courts. This is a direct attempt to hold the executive branch accountable for its assigned duties, and as someone who values accountability and transparency in government, I find it very encouraging.
Of course, the White House might still issue a vague response about recognizing concerns about the TSA while assuring us of its commitment to fully follow the requirements of the law, yadda, yadda, yadda. At this point there’s no guarantee they will issue a response at all. But I remain hopeful. Go sign that petition!
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