Consider Sen. Dean Heller’s website to be in beta testing.
While the newly appointed Nevada Republican will launch his official Senate website this week, it might be months before it actually looks the way he wants it.
Spokesman Stewart Bybee blames the delay on the Senate’s official website policy, a multistep process that requires a lot of paperwork and waiting.
Despite nearly identical formats and functions, each of the 100 Senate websites are contracted out to companies that build individual pages for the Senators.
Before anything can start, the new Senate office must submit paperwork and credentials to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. In addition to overseeing the process, the Sergeant-at-Arms hosts the websites, provides the servers and maintains the senate.gov domain name.
After the paperwork is in order, the office fills out a list of features that it would like, which is sent to 12 different approved vendors, all of which must bid. The Senator’s office then chooses and pays for the design from its budget.
“I’ve been pressing them to do it as quickly as possible, but there’s certain procedures and hurdles that you have to go through in the Senate before you can get to the construction phase of the website,” Bybee said.
Bybee, who also worked on Heller’s House website, said the process on the other side of the Capitol is a little bit easier.
“In the House, you can contract vendors directly, meet with five in a week and have a vendor chosen within two weeks if you want,” Bybee said. “It doesn’t work that way over here.”
One of the top Web designers for Congressional websites, GSL Solutions, also said the Senate process is slow.
“I think it does take a little more time just because there’s more of a process,” said Draughon Silcox, director of sales for GSL Solutions. “It’s a fair process. I certainly don’t have any complaints about it. It does add to the timing because the offices have to make their decisions based on what the offices want.”
The process though the Sergeant-at-Arms can take as little as a few weeks, although it usually lasts longer, according to Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms Kimball Winn.
“It really depends on how anxious the office is and how much work the vendor has,” he said. “There are a lot of variables that play into it.”
When Bybee told the office he wanted the website in four weeks, the SAA office returned to him with a less aggressive deadline, he said.
After a vendor receives a contract, it takes two or three months to complete a website in most cases, according to GSL Solutions President Michael Gaines. The timeline varies depending on how long the Member has been in office and how much data he has to convert. The process also runs more smoothly when someone in the Senate office has worked on a website in the past.
The SAA will help Senators set up a temporary website, but even that can take about a month. Temporary websites feature a biography, a constituent contact form and press releases, but they leave out social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Bybee said he’s hoping to get the site up as soon as possible.
“In this day and age, where constituents and individuals use the Internet ... on a daily basis, it’s important to have that type of presence online,” he said.