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!”
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.
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):
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.
When I ask about abortion, Fez draws a blank.
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.
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.