Ready your requests — petitions site We the People is back online.
The site was taken down for “maintenance” purposes in December, with the promise that it would return, petitions and signatures intact, in “late January.” As late as the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 31, the petitions.whitehouse.gov web address still only showed a maintenance message. But come the following morning it was back.
And the revamped website looks… exactly the same.
Well, there is one obvious difference. At relaunch the new site displayed just 18 of the 75 petitions that appeared before the maintenance on Dec. 18 (according to the Wayback Machine) — now it displays 19 petitions. However the petitions that do appear are arguably the most important — 17 have met the required 100,000 signature threshold to get a White House response.
And as FedScoop noted when the site was taken down, many of these petitions are critical of President Trump — the most popular, with over 1 million signatures, demands that the president release his tax returns.
The Trump White House has not responded to a petition since taking office over a year ago, but that may be about to change. “Following the site’s relaunch, petitions that have reached the required number of signatures will begin receiving responses,” a White House official told FedScoop in December.
But beyond the content considerations, what’s actually changed with the website? When the maintenance began the White House official told FedScoop that the work would “save taxpayers more than $1.3 million a year.”
While this may not represent much from federal budget perspective, the claim still begs the question — how?
On the front end, and from a user experience perspective, the site remains functionally and visually the same. Visitors are greeted by a “create a petition” button at the top of the page, and must create, or log in to, an account to interact with petitions.
It is difficult to divine what may have changed from a backend architecture perspective, or how this might save the promised $1.3 million per year. The open source code for the site, available on GitHub, has not been updated since September 2016, so it is impossible to tell what alterations may have been made to the code. Additionally, FedScoop was unable to determine whether the White House has made any changes to where and how the site is hosted.
The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.