Transition team soliciting public feedback

TRANSITION TEAM SOLICITING PUBLIC FEEDBACK…. At first blush, the idea of setting up a website and accepting public comments doesn’t sound especially revolutionary. But as Dan Froomkin noted yesterday, when a presidential team does it, the change is “enough to make your head spin.”

The Obama transition team is actually soliciting public comments on its Web site, reading them and responding to them.

Change.gov last week asked members of the public: What worries you most about the healthcare system in our country? The site’s users responded with 3,700 comments — and were able to vote each others’ comments up or down for good measure.

On Tuesday, former Sen. Tom Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama’s point person on health care, posted a video response. “I spent a lot of the weekend actually reading the comments,” he said. “And I have to tell you I’m extremely moved by a lot of the stories that you shared with us. We want to keep this a very open process. We want to make sure that you understand how important those comments and your contributions are. We really want to hear from you, and already have begun to follow through with some of the ideas.” Daschle’s video has now generated an additional 3,800 comments and counting.

And as of last night, there’s a new question on the site: How is the current economic crisis affecting you?

Historically, government-related sites have avoided public comments. The medium was about one-way communication, not two.

To this extent, we’re already seeing the beginnings of a significant shift. George W. Bush ran an operation that stifled dissent and kept opposing viewpoints as far away from policy makers as possible. If a White House official didn’t like your bumper sticker, you weren’t even allowed to listen quietly to the president talk about public policy in a public place.

And now, Obama’s team is inviting public comments and discussion online. Micah Sifry, co-founder of techpresident.com, wrote, “[T]his is a big deal. When you consider that for the last eight years, the occupant of the White House has essentially told the public ‘you get input once every four years, after that I’m the decider,’ this is huge…. Before our eyes, we are witnessing the beginning of a rebooting of the American political system.”

Hopefully, this will continue and expand after the inauguration, but these initial steps are very encouraging.