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Don’t Shoot Fez, the 1.6-Million-Dollar Robot Pheasant—He’s from the Government, and He’s Here to Help

Governor Kristi Noem announced last week that her team has updated the state website to promote “citizen-focused digital government.” Digital government means more digits: Innovation #1 appears to be adding a splash screen with a time- and bandwidth-consuming video background and an Enter Site button. You’ve already clicked a search engine result or typed “sd.gov” into your browser, which signifies that you want to enter the website, but Team Noem figures you need to press one more button to get where you want to go.

When you do finally get to the service portal, a pheasant pops up pleading, “Don’t shoot me!”

Fez the South Dakota pheasant-bot, SD.gov/cs, bagged 2022.02.20.
Fez the South Dakota pheasant-bot, SD.gov/cs, bagged 2022.02.20.

Hmmm… Governor Noem has often aped President Reagan’s warning that the most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Does Noem think citizens have so taken to heart her sage Gipper mimicry that when she offers government help, she must must open with a take-your-finger-off-the-trigger warning?

On the cute side, our new digital helper is named Fez.

Fez the Pheasant, South Dakota's Citizen Portal chat-bot on the job, screencapped 2022.02.20.
Fez the Pheasant, South Dakota’s Citizen Portal chat-bot on the job, screencapped 2022.02.20.

Alas, like Kristi and his feathered colleagues afield, Fez isn’t very bright. When I ask Fez about “gun laws”, the robot rooster spits out 20 results, leading with labor laws, how to get a labor law poster, and a blurb on capital punishment in South Dakota (and we don’t even have a firing squad):

Fez the Robot Rooster on "gun laws", sd.gov/cs, 2022.02.20.
Fez the Robot Rooster on “gun laws”, sd.gov/cs, 2022.02.20.

Subsequent results on the same search include conditions of parole, the portal’s privacy policy (which says nothing about guns), and how juveniles are committed to the Department of Corrections.

Again, like Kristi, Fez is completely ignorant of Kristi’s keenest issues. When I ask Fez about “critical race theory”, the digital bird gives me the South Dakota Motorcycle License Manual.

Hey, Fez: does South Dakota require me to wear a helmet when studying critical race theory?
Hey, Fez: does South Dakota require me to wear a helmet when studying critical race theory? Search results, sd.gov/cs, 2022.02.20.

When I ask about abortion, Fez draws a blank.

Fez on abortion.
Fez on abortion….

When I follow Fez’s advice and try to clarify with “get an abortion”, Fez tells me how inmates can make calls from prison, how to get to the citizen portal home page, and how many free counseling sessions I get with the Employee Assistance Program.

Fez responds to my search request: "get an abortion".
Fez responds to my search request: “get an abortion”.

I know, I know: the state didn’t spend $1.6 million to build and launch Fez just for me to tease him. But the state did spend $1.6 million to build Fez on a platform operated by ServiceNow, a global company headquartered in Santa Clara, California, with U.S. locations in San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, New York City, Minneapolis and a bunch of other liberal urban places but none in South Dakota.

Evidently after spending $1.6 million to build a bionic bird, some departments are short on cash to update their web content. The links at the bottom of the citizen portal take us to a list of state YouTube pages which include a Bureau of Human Resources page whose most recent video is from 2014 and a pre-merger Department of Agriculture page that last posted some youth speech videos in June 2020. The Department of Revenue had a burst of video output in September, but they’ve been averaging about three videos a year over the last nine years. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development is more videogenic, posting three videos this month so far.

Alas, completely forgotten in the Governor’s digital government upgrades are the state blogs. They keep a link at the very bottom of the state portal, and the page declares “Blogs are conversational and interactive,” but the only department maintaining any consistent blog presence is the Department of Education. The State Library last posted in August 2021, when it switched newsletter platforms. The Bureau of Information and Telecommunications hasn’t communicated since 2019. Revenue and Human Resources haven’t blogged since the Daugaard Administration; The Game Fish and Parks blog, which ought to be a Fez favorite, comes up as an error. But hey, with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, who needs blogs anymore, right?

Of course, with all those social media channels, one might wonder why the state needs to pay any private vendor $1.6 million to fire up a robot pheasant to guide us to answers to some of our questions about state government. Fez is cute, but Google gets us there faster and for free.

44 Comments

  1. Amy B. 2022-02-20 10:53

    My personal favorite part of the new site is that once I go in I see the governor’s name a couple times and those couple little ‘notes’ that sound more like campaigning … stating one her goals and mentioning her principles and values (insert eye roll here).

  2. jerry 2022-02-20 10:58

    Pass the Baklava. Fez is a Turkey.

  3. All Mammal 2022-02-20 11:01

    Deranged.

    Isn’t Fez short for foreign exchange student? Fitting since the pheasant is a foreigner.

    If a number of folks were constantly proclaiming I was a selfish, cruel, trifling, axxhole; I would certainly do some reflecting and do some soul-searching.

    Maybe Mrs. Noem has no soul to analyze.

    I wish she would at least give her critics a cap-full of consideration. The disregard to so many constituents is not Christian. NO good Christian can endorse Trump.

    Madness.

    Period.

  4. Loren 2022-02-20 11:03

    Cute! With Fez, you can get an automated reply devoid of any content, freeing Kristi to take out of state trips, have fund raisers and ponder her national pursuits. Try writing to Thune, you get the same type of menu. You must select from the menu. I get the feeling that the message then goes to the proper automated response of daily talking points. Last time I wrote to ask how a person with no spine could stand erect, (paraphrasing, here) I get a response on border security. I guess this is where we are headed.

  5. Lynne 2022-02-20 11:08

    Meanwhile, they are now requiring your social security number and date of birth to get a campsite. Because privacy should only be available to someone with an unnecessary ugly fence built with our money. And my call to GF&P was answered after 35 minutes on hold by somebody who doesn’t live in South Dakota. Not to mention that that splash screen causes motion sickness.

  6. sx123 2022-02-20 11:55

    Pheasants can be finicky birds and sometimes just rattle off nonsense.

  7. RST Tribal Member 2022-02-20 12:34

    Ha ha, the inept inbred American’s governor has made the state bird inept. Probably inbred. Dang made as dumb as the most republicans.

    Millions of federal dollars to being big pheasant to a computer screen near you. Another good use of federal handouts to promote something or another.

  8. Arlo Blundt 2022-02-20 13:24

    Who says we don’t have any money. 1.6 million goes out to California and out ambulance services struggle to buy gas and equipment.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-02-20 14:01

    Hey, Amy, did you notice that Noem’s little slogans—Advancing Agriculture, Connecting South Dakota, Enhancing Habitats, Equipping our National Guard, Every Child Deserves a Home, Strengthening Families—sit under empty logos (including a soldier who appears to be wearing a gas mask, signifying Noem is equipping our Guard for germ warfare in Ukraine?) that don’t click to offer any substantive information? Those empty images perfectly represent the Noem Administration.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-02-20 14:09

    Right after the big splash image and search box, the new site gives us “Popular Services.” I don’t know what algorithm generates those “Popular Services” links or if they are based on some web designer’s best guess, but if those links represent the web queries driving the most traffic to the state website, the most popular services in South Dakota are Contact Us, Tribal ID, COVID-19 Information, State Park Entrance License, Search for Jobs in South Dakota, and Hunting & Fishing License.

    When I ask Fez to “search jobs South Dakota”, Fez’s first three responses are…

    1. Where do I start to search for someone on one of the reservations?
    2. I’ve heard about two different parole systems in South Dakota. What is the difference?
    3. Claimant Instructions C

    None of those links go to the SouthDakotaWorks.org page that’s right next to Fez on that front page. Poor bird.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-02-20 14:12

    Lynne, I was going to look up the Privacy Policy to see if the state can offer you any assurances that it will keep your SSN and DOB away from hackers and salespeople… but when I clicked on the privacy policy that Fez offered me, I got, “You do not have sufficient privileges to access this knowledge item.”

  12. mike from iowa 2022-02-20 14:13

    If you click ‘show me everything’ and Fez drops his feathers, I will likely faint from embarrassment. The answers you got to queries likely seem perfectly logical to brain dead magats.

    Looks like another Noem boondoggle.

  13. sx123 2022-02-20 14:46

    Was this website project put out for bid?

    I would have liked to bid on it and do it. Would have kept the money in state.

    How does one find out about these deals?

  14. Donald Pay 2022-02-20 15:03

    I wanted to know where I could get porn lips like Governor Noem’s. It gave me a whole list of things to check, one being victim’s assistance.

    I asked where I could get an enema. It pointed me to VA Housing.

    All in all, Fez will be a great resource for comedians or anyone who wants hoot. Maybe the bird should be an owl.

  15. jerry 2022-02-20 15:31

    Devin Nunes company, is the likely site manager. Hooks you right into trumps new social thingy. Corey Lewandowski probably has his finger in this as well.

  16. jerry 2022-02-20 15:34

    Put in Richard Benda to see if it takes you to EB5 Rounds website. I would, but I’m scared of being mistaken for a pheasant and get blasted.

  17. Mark Anderson 2022-02-20 16:52

    P.J. O’Rourke just died he was a conservative but he did say this, “the Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass from your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it,” He knew his people well.

  18. 96Tears 2022-02-20 17:18

    Thank you, Cory, for the fun on Sunday project! It’s clear Fez (not unlike Noem) was not ready for prime time, despite her claim that they’ve been working on Fez since last May. Oh, where does the time and all of that money go?

    I thought I’d toss Fez a softball.

    Me: Where can I register to vote?

    Fez: (three hyperlink “answers”)
    1. Do sex offenders have to register upon their release from prison in South Dakota?
    2. I need help to heat my home this winter; where can I find help?
    3. Driver License Locations and Hours

    Now, I’ll cut the ol’ Fez-ter a break. You CAN register to vote at the state driver license locations if you want to sit for two or three hours during their bankers’ hours and risk COVID infections. But when you click on the hyperlink for “Driver License Locations and Hours,” there is no mention of voter registration services. Three dead-ends Kristi, and that’s not good. Looks like the roll out is a massive failure.

    It’s funny that Noem tells us in her press release about The Fez (which is a great Steely Dan tune BTW) that her latest accomplishment’s “goal is to update the state’s digital infrastructure in an effort to strengthen our systems against cybersecurity risks.”

    If Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time-Fez is Noem’s first line of defense “to strengthen our systems against cybersecurity risks,” we might as well surrender all of our passwords to the Spam hackers right now.

  19. buckobear 2022-02-20 17:39

    Another $1.6 million sent out of state. No decent help in South Dakota.

  20. grudznick 2022-02-20 19:01

    BuwahahaHAHAHA.
    That is one very sad little web page your blue links went to. It is insaner than most this is the sort of nonsense these fellows are up to.

    Service Now? Or Service Never!

  21. RST Tribal Member 2022-02-20 19:27

    Big Pheasant, “We’ll on it”. Didn’t Noem launch another campaign recently?

  22. Amy B. 2022-02-20 19:41

    Yes I saw them Cory and I tried to click on them and, much like ideas, they went nowhere. I think those will be a few of her campaign ‘bullet points’ so I’m sure we’ll be hearing (and seeing) a lot about those things. It looks like another one of her streamlining/improvement efforts fell short and this is just another waste of money. Does anyone know who actually built this website…. I would be shocked if it was someone in state. I wonder if she knows her ring-necked pheasant web site assistant is actually a Chinese bird and not American.

  23. Observer 2022-02-20 19:49

    Hey Lynne,
    On the “Unique Tent Camping Spots in South Dakota” webpage I clicked on “Lake Vermillion Recreation Area” and then clicked on the “Learn More>>>” link, this page popped up:
    Your connection isn’t private
    Attackers might be trying to steal your information from travel.campsd.com (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards).

  24. Buckobear 2022-02-20 20:00

    Shouldn’t it be Phez??

  25. larry kurtz 2022-02-20 20:04

    MFI, you must know Steely Dan is David Crosby’s favorite band.

    The fez is a Shriner’s ticket to ride, the place where grud an Sibby snort gravy taters on an altar in Hoven.

  26. Bob Newland 2022-02-20 21:11

    I’m 73 and I’ve paid more attention than it deserves to SoDak politics for about 30 years. I thought I was jaded, but Kristi finds one trick after another to further satirize herself.

    She may be the most un-self-aware person in public life in SoDak, and that puts her in with some tough ompetition.

  27. M 2022-02-21 06:42

    The website is childish, embarrassing, not user friendly, obviously created by a company unfamiliar with SD, unsafe to surf, uninformative and BLAH.

    Imagine a SD scavenger hunt fact search in 7th grade computer science. The assignment is to familiarize the students with the state’s website. Teacher hands out a sheet with fun questions, the students excited to get out of her lecture and instruction anxiously search the site to answer those exciting facts about the state. They would do like Cory and search on google, get the answer and move on. Then free time. On the other hand, you can’t tear them away from National Geographic or weather.com.

    I hope someone is tallying the waste of our hard-earned money on Noem’s projects that are scrapped or need to be redone. Large amounts of money wasted on unconstitutional legislation, travel related to personal advancement, and on personal luxuries.

  28. grudznick 2022-02-21 08:23

    I went to this web place, and it does make me click an extra button to get to the place where I have to type a question. Why do they make it so much harder for people like grudznick?

  29. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-02-21 08:58

    Phez! Yes! That would help distinguish our robot bird from fine Turkish headwear.

    But the our new robot helper might develop self-awareness and start messing with his search results, serving up links to the Bureau of Phinance and Management, Public Saphety, and Game Phish and Parks.

  30. mike from iowa 2022-02-21 09:19

    Maybe Fez ignores questions that cause him white guilt and discomfort. Likely programmed in.

  31. 96Tears 2022-02-21 09:19

    “Game Phish and Parks.” Dang. That’s a good one!

    I remember a controversy years back when a Republican statehouse candidate was accused of using a contact list of people who got hunting and fishing licenses for their campaign direct mail project. I don’t remember how that spun out, but it was alarming to think lists like that could be obtained by politicians and commercial interests legally or illegally.

    That makes me wonder why this half-baked gimmick is important to a governor seeking re-election. The data collected would be very interesting and useful for someone crafting direct mail and social media messages for campaigns or corporate profiteers. How is that information protected from those who want to exploit it?

  32. buckobear 2022-02-21 09:23

    Shouldn’t it be spelled “Phez?”

  33. jkl 2022-02-21 09:58

    I don’t know what you all expect for only 1.6 million. If you are going to go cheap you are going to get cheap! Personally, based on the Q&A, I think it is a hot line to the governor herself.

  34. Bob Newland 2022-02-21 19:12

    The figure–$1.6million–is rather astounding, even for a website that works.

  35. grudznick 2022-02-21 19:27

    My good friend Bob is righter-than-right on this one. grudznick can imagine far better things the head of this web blog site could have done with $1.6million dollars. My goodness. Who signed off on this insanerness?

  36. Richard Schriever 2022-02-21 19:35

    Back in the day, when I was doing Web programing out in sunny Southern California we built a site for the DOD (Department of Defense) that was way smarter and more secure to Fez for around $300K. the sort of “digital assistant” app that ol’ Fez is, is a cookie cutter, cut and paste program that probably didn’t take any programming team more to 3, 8 hour days with three 1 hour breaks every day to create. OBVIOUSLY no testing was done at all.

  37. grudznick 2022-02-21 20:03

    Mr. Schriever seems to make good sense here. So where did the $1.6million dollars go? Into the pockets of what dark web fellows?

  38. Porter Lansing 2022-02-21 20:18

    The Dark Web has “dark eyes” on grudznichts.
    – One day he’ll awaken to an empty bank account and investment portfolio, then soon discover his Social Security pension has been re-routed to an account in Somalia.
    – I warned him to watch the insults and who he offends and disrespects on political blogs, but he didn’t listen.

  39. grudznick 2022-02-21 20:24

    I have often wondered about those fellows I am told are aiming tantalus devices at my abode.

  40. Arlo Blundt 2022-02-21 22:44

    From my limited experience with these web site creations, I would say Richard is correct….not a complicated product that breaks any new ground….What I suspect is that the developer is a big Republican giver…it’s just more “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

  41. mike from iowa 2022-02-24 10:47

    Had 2 rooster phezs walk across yard and neither of them could tell me anything about Duhkota gubmint services. They did tell me to eat more chicken, though. iowa pheasants get a better education than animated or robotic ones from South Duhkota.

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