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

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2009; B01

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.

In recent years, state officials say Northrop Grumman has missed key deadlines, has not adequately maintained inventory and has provided poor service to state agencies. The state has withheld payment from the company several times.

"There are problems there," said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). "Needless to say, they are trying to develop state-of-the-art technology, and it's not going smoothly."

The company has replaced more than 35,000 computers, created a centralized service desk to respond to state agencies and opened two secure data facilities in Chesterfield and Russell counties. The original timetable called for the company to assume full control of the state's computer infrastructure by July 1, but that deadline will not be met.

"We have not been able to determine the cause of the delay," Ashley Colvin of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission told Senate Finance members last week.

The commission, the General Assembly's investigative arm, has been monitoring implementation of the contract with Northrop Grumman and has raised concerns about a lack of financial savings, among other things.

In a statement, Northrop Grumman called the partnership with the state a "visionary, groundbreaking concept."

"Northrop Grumman is confident that we are delivering good value and best-of-class systems to the agencies and citizens of Virginia," according to the statement. "We welcome the opportunity to address questions about our partnership with VITA and the challenging, rewarding work we are doing."

Stewart, who has been chief information officer since the program began, told the board at an emergency meeting this month that he planned to withhold money from the company. McGuirk said members of the board acknowledged the problems with the company but told Stewart that they did not want to withhold more money. "We did not believe that was appropriate," he said. "We are satisfied with their reactions to problems."

Stewart's five-year contract had ended in February, and the board was searching for a replacement after McGuirk said Stewart did not want to stay another five years. He had stayed on with a monthly contract but was removed after the disagreement over payment to Northrop Grumman.

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