On Jan. 21, his first full day in office, President Obama promised to open up the government, ordering officials to use modern technologies like Internet message boards and blogs to give all Americans a bigger voice in public policy.
Well, the people have spoken. But many of them are not sticking to the topics at hand.
The White House made its first major entree into government by the people last month when it set up an online forum to ask ordinary people for their ideas on how to carry out the president’s open-government pledge. It got an earful — on legalizing marijuana, revealing U.F.O. secrets and verifying Mr. Obama’s birth certificate to prove he was really born in the United States and thus eligible to be president.
“Please, as fellow human beings of this great planet Earth, disclose all known information on space/UFO’s because the world needs to know,” wrote sprinter5160 on the site, whitehouse.gov/open, which attracted thousands of similar comments on fringe topics.
While it was not exactly what administration officials had in mind, they noted that democracy can be a bit messy.
“Even for people who want to talk about U.F.O.’s or the Kennedy assassination, we have created a forum for people to have a conversation with each other, and potentially to go off and organize and develop this further,” said Beth Simone Noveck, a New York Law School professor who is Mr. Obama’s deputy chief technology officer for open government.
Most of the suggestions were closely related to the topic at hand, like publishing a list of everyone who meets with the president, using computer graphics to track how rapidly agencies respond to Freedom of Information Act requests and installing webcams to monitor federal offices. The administration’s goal is to devise regulations that would tell federal agencies how to make their operations more open to the public.
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