First published at WashingtonTimes.com
The White House has posted the contents of President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus plan online and is allowing for comment submissions.
By clicking on a link in the official White House blog, people can submit their "comments, thoughts, and ideas."
However, you must submit your name and an email address in order to post your thoughts, which do not appear online and must be 500 characters or less.
I am reserving judgment, but 500 characters (less than 4 "Tweets" on Twitter) seems minimal compared to the size of the bill — $787 billion.
This statement below, from the president's speech in Virginia yesterday, is 474 characters:
"Not far from where we're standing, back in Washington, we continue to have a debate about our economic plan -- a plan to create or save more than 3 million jobs in the next few years. And I welcome that conversation. But I am here today because you don't need to travel very far from that debate to see why enacting this plan is both urgent and essential to our recovery -- to see that the time for talk has passed and that now is the time to take bold and swift action."
A tech-type person familiar with such site setups thinks the character limitation is probably more about the functionality of the Internet system the White House inherited than it is about limiting discussion.
The tech source tells me they would guess the White House folks would prefer the broad system they had at Change.gov during the transition period and speculated the team's attitude might be, "You do the best you can in the short term."
White House press aide Nick Shapiro said "We are in the process of evaluating the best way to implement the comment review period and this includes the process and associated technology."
In response to my questions Shapiro said people can submit comments multiple times in case 500 characters isn't enough. The comments are subject to the Presidential Records Act and will be reviewed by White House staff, he said.
It's unclear, however, if they will eventually be published for all to see at WhiteHouse.gov.
Shapiro noted the experience with Change.gov and posting comments publicly and allowing for a ranking of the best questions for the then-incoming administration "demonstrates our desire for being more accessible" and a commitment to seeking "transparency throughout government."
So here's that link again, let me know if you are able to clearly express your thoughts on the stimulus plan within 500 characters.
I've submitted a question and will let you know if I get a response. Once you input your thoughts, the site thanks you and urges, "Please check back often for updates."
Last week after taking some hits in the blogosphere for breaking a campaign promise to post bills 5 days before signing them into law for public comment, the White House blog team updated site visitors with this note:
As we've noted on the blog, the President has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. We've also published the DTV Delay Act of 2009.
Since a few questions have come in, we want to update you on the President's campaign commitment to introducing more sunlight into the lawmaking process by posting non-emergency legislation online for five days before signing it. This policy will be implemented in full soon; currently we are working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar.
The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.
Jon Ward asked Robert Gibbs today about transparency during the briefing, and Gibbs said it was a "work in progress." See Jon's blog post here.
— Christina Bellantoni, White House correspondent,
The Washington Times
Please bookmark my blog at