Threshold rises on petitions to elicit White House response

In the last two weeks, the Obama administration has rebuffed calls for Texas and other states to secede from the Union, deport CNN host Piers Morgan and, somewhat humorously, let down supporters who urged the government to build its own Death Star.

The administration crafted those responses to various petitions posted on its “We the People” website, which allows people to sign petitions that can receive a White House response if enough people sign the online urgings.

But receiving that coveted official response just became harder.

The White House announced this week that it has increased the threshold to receive an official response from 25,000 signatures to 100,000 signatures. The new threshold applies only to petitions created after the change and, as before, petitioners have only 30 days to gather enough names.

“When we first raised the threshold — from 5,000 to 25,000 — we called it ‘a good problem to have,’” Macon Phillips, the White House’s director of digital strategy, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “Turns out that ‘good problem’ is only getting better, so we’re making another adjustment to ensure we’re able to continue to give the most popular ideas the time they deserve.”

Use of the “We the People” site has skyrocketed, Phillips wrote. During the first 10 months of last year, a petition took an average of 18 days to pass the old 25,000-signature threshold, he said. In the last two months of 2012, that time was sliced in half.

Some of the most eye-popping petitions and responses would not have made it to the new threshold.

Take the response to a petition calling the government to begin construction of a Death Star by 2016 to boost job creation and bolster national defense. The petition received 34,435 signatures.

The reasons for rejection-written by Paul Shawcross, chief of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget-included the cost:

“The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.”

As well as a moral argument:

“The administration does not support blowing up planets.”

And then the practical:

“Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

The White House does have some wiggle room to what it responds to. The website says the administration may respond to a petition even if it hasn’t crossed the threshold and may decline to comment on certain issues “to avoid the appearance of improper influence.”

The petitions and responses haven’t all been on the unusual side. The White House has responded to petitions regarding Wall Street reform, gun violence, human rights and the fiscal cliff.

Then there’s Texas.

Those looking to secede from the Union still would have had enough signatures to get the official White House response-one that presumably displeased the 125,746 who signed the petition.

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