Free Markets, Free People

GOP Tech: Clueless Losers

Today, the GOP released a request for proposal for a new web site.  This is the RFP (PDF).  I have read it all the way through.  It’s quite a document.  It’s an especially interesting read for someone like me, who responds to RFPs for web development for a living. I say “interesting” because it’s a masterpiece of confusion and idiocy.


I assume it was written by someone who has heard of this new thing called “com-poo-tors”, and who doesn’t actually have one, but has been told that they’ll be very big in the future.

Let’s take a little closer look at this document, shall we?

Integrate outside products through common API’s, widgets, or iframes (examples: Kimbia fundraising, Voter Vault, Widgetbox, Ning).

As far as I know, there is no common API for those applications.  Each has it’s own API, I’m sure.  They may be accessible through a common technology, i.e., any ODBC compliant data/programming model like PHP or .NET will probably be able to access them in some way.  But there’s not going to be anything common about it.  I also love the use of the term “widgets”.  Because every tech person knows what a “widget” is.  It’s such a specific term.

But the best part is asking for the use of the IFRAME tag.  I guess that’s OK.  As long as you won’t be wanting to use the XHTML Strict doctype, or anything.  Or you’ve never heard of the OBJECT tag.

Flash interfaces can often make mundane tasks exciting, and having Flash developers who understand user behavior will make the site more user-friendly.

Well, that’s a perfectly uncontroversial statement.  If there’s one thing that everybdy in the web-based tech community agrees on, it’s how wonderful Flash is.  because it makes things, you know, move.  And it’s so easy to optimize for search engines!

An ideal client will have a CMS that is already built out and ready to plug into the system, so the only programming time will be building the outward facing presence.

“No limitations on design”?  Oh.  OK.  There’ll be no limitations on cost, then.Because, as everyone knows, every CMS system uses the exact database schema that the RNC uses, so there will need to be no data import, or customized programming to access the RNC’s content data.  All you have to do is install the CMS, and, like magic, the only work you’ll have to do is set up a really nice theme. And how convenient that Flash will require no custom ActionScript programming to integrate into the CMS.

The really helpful thing about the RFP is that there are no indications of what database backend the RNC uses, no information about the database size or schema, no indication of the server technology they’d like to use, or, actually, any technical details at all.  But, when you throw all that stuff in, the RFP gets so, you know, long, and boring.

But long and boring is one thing this document is not.  In fact, it’s only two pages long.  Once you start throwing that sort of stuff in, you end up with a hideous and stuffy nightmare of an RFP like this.

But, one thing the RNC does want:  They want to know what it’ll cost them.

All costs of the project will be delivered with proposal.

Well, it’s a good thing the RFP is so chock full of the kinds of detailed information that will allow a contractor to make accurate time/cost estimates.  But, I kid.  In actuality, the RNC has made costing this proposal childishly simple, with the addition of this:

No limitations on design; the RNC will be in on the entire process and will ensure everything is to our exact specifications.

“No limitations on design”?  Oh.  OK.  There’ll be no limitations on cost, then.  Your web site will cost $.  Or, whatever amount causes you to stop saying, “I’m done fiddling with it now.”  It’s up to you.

I’ll be billing every two weeks, thanks.


Surely this is all some sort of elaborate joke.  Perhaps on Monday the RNC will tell us that they were just having us on.  Then, once we’ve all had a good laugh, they’ll release the real RFP.

Because whatever this document is, it’s not an RFP.  At best, this is some sort of marketing-related  statement of intent.  It’s nothing more than a series of barely-related bullet points that say:

  • We want a cool web site.
  • We want neat external applications to run on it.
  • Flash is fun.
  • We want it to be easy to use, ’cause we ain’t got us much of that compooter learnin’.
  • Make it pretty.

This the new, high-tech-savvy GOP?  This is the kind of in-depth attention to leveraging technology that the refurbished, Michel Steele RNC has planned?

This is a travesty.  And it’s sad.  Especially since the opening paragraph states:

This RFP and the ambitious goals behind it result from the help of the RNC Tech Summit and the 7,000 grassroots volunteers who participated both online and in-person.

Wow.  That must have been an über-effective tech summit.

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20 Responses to GOP Tech: Clueless Losers

  • I won’t pretend to understand even half of what you wrote. And even though I’m no stranger to RFP’s, I am clueless as to what this one is actually looking for. But I can’t escape the uncomfortable similarity this all has with the movie Brazil.


    Harry Tuttle: Bloody paperwork. Huh!
    Sam Lowry: I suppose one has to expect a certain amount.
    Harry Tuttle: Why? I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there’s trouble, a man alone. Now they got the whole country sectioned off, you can’t make a move without a form.


    Kurtzmann: It’s been confusion from the word go!

  • A closed primary in all states would do a lot more for the GOP than what they are discussing.

    • No sh*t!  But no one has ever accused the GOP of being too smart for it’s own good, have they?

  • As one of our commenters noted on one of my threads a while back, Republicans are infected with suck. The party appartchiks have drunk the socialist kool-aid; they no longer understand the connection between work and value.

    There are any number of good consultants out there who could have helped them draw up the RFP, and then become disqualified from bidding on it. Such a consultant could also have helped them understand the likely range of costs they would need to pay for a variety of capabilities and features. Then they could have had any number of other companies bid on an RFP that made sense.

    The real tragedy in their approach is that it utterly ignores a critical area for a web site that’s supposed to draw people in – elegant design. They mention Flash as if it’s something to draw attention to the web site by bouncing things around the screen, but that’s a complete misunderstanding of the proper use of animation and other visual effects. Those techniques are best used to make a user feel completely at home with a system or web site, in a way they can’t even verbalize. Subtle animation and gradients make a user interface feel natural and welcoming. Bad or gratuitous use of those capabilites make an interface feel garish and irritating.

    If anyone is wondering what the heck I’m talking about, you can see a video of a desktop example my team produced here. Or you can peek at a very early version of a new Silverlight-based site I’m working on here. (But you will need to have the Silverlight plug-in to see it. It’s just like installing Flash.)

    • They have the dumb.  They cannot brain…

    • That’s a fantastic WPF interface, by the way, Billy.

      • Thanks, Dale. The last three years have completely changed my whole thinking about how UI should look and act.

        It will take a few years, but I’m expecting to see that level of UI in a lot of web apps, too. Maybe the Republican bureaucrats ought to be thinking about looking a bit less like clueless losers by getting out in front of that trend… 

    • Well that’s wicked cool.

  • Wasn’t Jon Henke (and others) working with the GOP (or parts therein) regarding this issue? 

    Perhaps the GOP needs to truly implode before it can be rebuilt.

    • No, Jon hasn’t been in on that stuff, but his Next Right co-blogger Patrick Ruffini has been.  I don’t know in what capacity, because I’ve been very busy lately.

  • It’s not the medium, it’s the FREAKING MESSAGE.  They can inject all manner of bells of whistles into their ultra-mecha-RPG-f’ing-interface-toboggan-whtml-whizbang-whozitz all they want.  It matters little if guys like me are so dispassionate and downright ashamed of the GOP, we’re unwilling to make a connection on Facebook.

    Message message message.  Not to mention the manifestation of that message when we luck into positions of power. 

    I’m sorry to go on like this.  Eight years of, “Eh, it could be worse” has worn me.

  • I’ll echo Michael W on the your eplanations; it’s not my field but having dealt with RFP for 30-odd years, it did read as amateurish and, as you note, the cluelessness red flag was:

    • No limitations on design; the RNC will be in on the entire process and will ensure
    everything is to our exact specifications.
    • All costs of the project will be delivered with proposal.

    I’d send them a request for their Q&E for being a client.

  • I followed the Tech Summit and it seemed to be overloaded with the young tech college republican wired types.  They seem to want to out web 2.0 the other side and simply that is way too much for the average voter to even want to deal with.

    What is needed is a simple portal site that doesn’t bleg you to death at every mouse click.

    They also need a common set of CSS pages to distribute to all the state parties so that the sites look similar enough that a user can go from one to another without having to re invent the wheel at each state level site.

    Offer each user a customized myRNC page similar to my yahoo or igoogle with easy to add gadgets plus some defaults pulled in from your registration info.

    Front page tab shows basically RNC/RSCC etc RSS feeds , same for your state

    Calendars in the left side bar with national calendar, House of Rep, Senate and State calendars as individual gadgets

    Tabs the user can set up with good defaults and top of page simple content pick list drop downs to opt in / opt out of content gadgets

    If I want to follow Q&O , RedState and RealClearPolitics just let me radio button to opt them in or change the color for the ones I am subscribed to.  Let me drop and drag arrange.

    Gadgets for legislation status , roll call votes etc with links to external sites for more info  Thomas etc links to cspan or other coverage to make it easy to say watch a committee hearing when it comes on

    A news page similar to Breitbart with various opt in / out sections and pick lists for source subscriptions / opt out

    A combined donor section to the site for all elections and routing the donations to the proper PAC / campaign committee.

    Time lines with milestones so you can cruise back to study the history that might otherwise fall down the memory hole

    Obama White House
    Cabinet level offices
    House of Rep
    State level equivalents

    A moderated video channel setup for places like Heritage and other conservative sources to be consolidated at similar to FORA TV

    As far as the state level goes ,bring most of those sites out of the dark ages with CSS packs to give them a common look and feel for the easy of the end users.

    Distribute static national content to their servers (share the cost) and allow linkage of the users myRNC page off that site to follow the user where ever they go so that they might use the state site for most access and lower their latency and split the load over redundant servers.  Dynamic content can be linked both ways to keep all sites on the same page.

    But all the tech in the world won’t help unless we get a common worthy message to put onto the framework we build.

    But you want something simple to be almost like surfing a web page easy for the working , busy types without all the latest hot twitter or what ever except for those that understand it an need that stuff.  We are so far behind the basics will be hard enough to get done first.

    Hire The Fred as a spokesman for RNC videos.

  • Ditto with Ronnie Gipper.  It is the message that counts.  Q&O’s site is not exactly full of bells, whistles and flash! Same with a tone of other blogs I go to.  But the message is excellent and interesting which keeps me coming back.

    I definitely understand your point on the incompetence of the GOP, even if I don’t for a second understand the technical stuff.

    I think the RNC’s problem won;t be getting all the cool stuff they want.  The hard part for them will be the “message” part.

    By the way:  “I assume it was written by someone who has heard of this new thing called “com-poo-tors”, and who doesn’t actually have one, but has been told that they’ll be very big in the future.”  That is a great line!!!

  • Isn’t this an inherently contradictory statement?

    No limitations on design; the RNC will be in on the entire process and will ensure everything is to our exact specifications.

    So, do you have no limitation on the design, or do you want me to follow your exact specifications?

  • My ignorance in this area is boundless, but I know enough to laugh out loud at section VI , “Constraints on Budget, Schedule, and Design”.  They want to start building the site (after extensive and thorough brainstorming and analysis) in less than a month, which is not even enough time for the laughter to die down and the lucky contract winner to catch their breath. The word ‘feckless’ (not fit to assume responsibility) springs to mind.

  • Mmmmmmphhfffhh.
    i’m unconvinced that thie kind of non-understanding/non-thinking revealed in that document is all that different from a lot of governmental RFP. I wonder which is the more frightening…. that our government tries to work that way, or that the republicans, even outide government do, as well… or perhaps by extension.

  • sorry for the typos. still getting used to this treo keyboard

  • All I have to say is this: The GOP spammed me. Yes, recently. On Feb. 7, 11, and 27th. I even used their puking opt-out after the first message, and of course, that worked as well as it ever does with spammers.

    So the only logical next step is to invoke the Boulder Pledge on them…


  • I have to say, that I could not agree with you in 100%, but it’s just my IMHO, which indeed could be wrong.
    p.s. You have a very good template for your blog. Where have you got it from?