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With Facebook hire, RNC hopes to put tech woes behind it

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The Republican National Committee is taking steps to rebound from its troubled relationship with technology by hiring as chief technology officer a former Facebook and Google employee. Andy Barkett will head the party’s data and digital departments in that role, it announced Tuesday.

“It’s essential that the Republican Party has the resources to drive voter turnout as we look toward the elections of 2014, 2016 and beyond,” Mr. Barkett said in a statement. “Silicon Valley welcomes the party’s efforts to be more creative and innovative, and I look forward to helping the party accomplish these goals.”

The move comes after the RNC and the presidential campaign of its nominee, Mitt Romney, paid well over $102 million to Targeted Victory for digital services, compared with $107 million by their Democratic opponents to their corresponding firm, Bully Pulpit Interactive — only to get roundly outperformed in every angle of the digital game.

The RNC and the Romney campaign also paid millions to FLS Connect, which shares an address with Targeted Victory and was founded by an Republican National Committee official.

And on election day, the Republicans suffered an embarassing meltdown in Orca, a voter turnout database it heralded as game-changing, but which it turned out had never been properly tested.

Republican technologists have voiced discontent with the party’s technology operations, saying the increasingly paramount field has long been dominated by a politically-connected but IT skill-bereft cartel of consultants who have gotten rich from campaign donations and brought little return to the party.

“For the amount of money that the Romney team is reported to have spent on websites, web apps and other digital components, it should have performed on par with professional corporate operations,” Neil Stevens, a Republican web developer, said. “We know the Obama team worked like a successful business. We see no evidence that Romney got his money’s worth — or rather, the Republican donor community’s money’s worth.”

Scott McNealy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, indicated in the statement that with the hiring of Mr. Barkett as the party’s first-ever CTO, it hopes to inject real technical knowledge into the party.

“The ability of conservative candidates to get their messages out to the voter using digital technology just got a huge boost. Andy Barkett is a not just a strong advocate of fiscal conservatism and the ability of private enterprise to lift everyone in our nation, but he is the real deal as a technologist too. “

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