The White House made good on plans to reopen its online petition site by the end of January, relaunching the platform minutes before midnight Wednesday.
Many doubted the administration would stick to quick turnaround plans for the site, which was taken offline “for maintenance” in December as part of a vendor change projected to save $1.3 million annually.
The petition platform — hosted at petitions.whitehouse.gov — relaunched under its original name, “We the People,” with all 17 Trump-era petitions that cleared a 100,000-signature threshold for an official response restored.
One petition with fewer than 100,000 signatures also was restored, supporting Kurdish independence from Iraq.
Earlier on Wednesday, the status of relaunch plans was unclear. A Virginia company said to be working on White House website improvements didn’t respond to a request for comment and a former White House official said they doubted an on-time launch, citing petition site complexity.
Hours before the platform went live, satisfying a self-imposed “late January” deadline, the Washington Post published an article titled, “The White House promised to restore a petitions site that was critical of Trump. It hasn’t.”
For users, the new site looks about the same as the earlier version, which launched in 2011 under former President Barack Obama. But the White House says it will make improvements.
“In the coming weeks we are going to be making continued enhancements, evaluating the data and performance and optimizing the site — both to ensure it works well and serves user needs and to identify ways we can continue to improve it,” a White House official said.
The White House declined to confirm the identity of the vendor(s) helping with the site, citing “security reasons” because doing so “would make their servers a target."
The firm Acquia previously handled much of the platform’s support work, a former White House official said. A different former official questioned why the new vendor’s identity should be secret, saying, “It’s a website, it’s not national security."
The Trump White House is seeking to reduce overall costs for online operations, and the petition site revamp and projected cost savings came after a larger White House website rethink projected to save $3 million a year.
None of the 17 petitions that cleared a 100,000-signature threshold for an official response under Trump have been answered, but the White House said it would begin issuing responses after the site’s relaunch.
The petition site under Obama become a reliable tool for attracting attention, often vaulting demands onto cable news programs.
Critics said the Obama White House, despite a stated mission of transparency, disproportionately used the platform to win positive press for favored causes and softball pitches, while avoiding inconvenient asks. A petition requesting a pardon for surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden, for example, waited 25 months for an answer.
In deciding to keep the site, the Trump White House said it supported citizen engagement. The site’s fate had been subject to nearly a year of internal deliberation.
Early in Trump’s term, the site was a sounding board for critics, with more than 1.1 million signatures for a petition demanding his tax returns be published. But over time, the petition pool diversified with other top signature-getters including a demand that the government declare liberal donor George Soros a terrorist and seize his assets.
Gabby Morrongiello contributed to this report.