Va. Assembly Probes Removal of Official Who Challenged Contractor's Performance

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RICHMOND -- The General Assembly has launched an investigation into the removal of Virginia's chief information officer hours after he questioned Northrop Grumman's performance on its 10-year, $2 billion contract to upgrade the state's computer system.

Northrop Grumman, which holds the largest contract in state history, has been accused by Virginia officials of missing deadlines, running over costs and providing poor service. The state is withholding more than $6 million from the company because of problems.

"Questions have been raised about our ability to successfully provide these services, and these questions must be addressed," said Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), chairman of his chamber's Finance Committee.

In a rare show of unity, legislators from both parties and both chambers have expressed concerns about the removal of Lemuel C. Stewart Jr. as chief information officer and the potential conflict of interest in appointing Technology Secretary Leonard M. Pomata to temporarily replace him.

"These conflicts, while perhaps not illegal, certainly provide the appearance of impropriety," House Majority Caucus Chairman Samuel A. "Sam" Nixon Jr. (R-Chesterfield) wrote in a letter last week to the Information Technology Investment Board, which removed Stewart. Nixon is asking that Pomata be replaced as chief information officer because he also serves in Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's Cabinet and is a member of the board.

The Senate Finance Committee has invited the House Appropriations Committee to join in its inquiry. A subcommittee will hold its first meeting June 29.

James F. McGuirk II, chairman of the Information Technology Investment Board, said last week that Stewart's month-to-month contract was terminated after he would not pay Northrop Grumman. Stewart, who is paid $189,000 annually by the state, will remain a consultant until a permanent replacement is found this summer.

"We were not trying to sweep anything under the rug," McGuirk said. "We were not unhappy with his performance. There was a disagreement on tactics."

Calls to Stewart and Pomata were not returned. But Kaine (D) said after Stewart's removal that the state has been satisfied with Northrop Grumman and that he did not have a problem with his technology secretary temporarily serving as the chief information officer.

The Virginia Information Technologies Agency and its governing board were formed after a legislative review in 2002 showed that the state's computer system was out of date and increasingly expensive to maintain.

Former governor Mark Warner (D) consolidated the state's computer operations into one agency and overhauled the system to make it more efficient and less expensive. The General Assembly, controlled then by Republicans, suggested separating the state's chief information officer and his agency from the governor to insulate them from the political process and allow them to make decisions based on business and technological needs. As a result, they report to a nine-member board, whose members are appointed by the legislature and the governor.

The state accepted bids and selected Northrop Grumman for the contract.

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