Va. Lawmakers Question Contract With Northrop Grumman to Upgrade Computer System

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

RICHMOND, June 29 -- Lawmakers are starting to question whether Virginia should renegotiate or cancel a 10-year, $2 billion contract to upgrade the state's computer system, responding to what state officials call years of missed deadlines and poor service by the contractor.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's secretary of technology, Leonard M. Pomata, was grilled Monday about the contractor, Northrop Grumman, in appearances before House and Senate panels.

"When is this is going to end?'' asked Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William). "Obviously this process is not in the best interest of the citizens of Virginia, and we are the stewards of their money."

The House Committee on Science and Technology and a Senate finance subcommittee met separately for hours to begin investigating the contract.

The House panel agreed to ask the state attorney general's office whether a massive security breach in a state drug database in April could be reason enough to modify the contract. The FBI is investigating a hacker's claim to have stolen 8 million patient records and 35 million prescriptions for a $10 million ransom.

Sandra Whitley Ryals, director of Virginia's Department of Health Professions, told lawmakers Monday that some doctors and others who prescribe drugs are concerned because they are not able to check prescription histories on the database, which is still not fully operational. Ryals later said such cases are limited, although she did not know exact numbers.

"This is a security failure,'' said Del. Harry R. "Bob" Purkey (R-Virginia Beach). "Does this security failure constitute a breach of contract and create grounds for contract renegotiation?"

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 under the largest contract in state history. The state is withholding more than $6 million from the company because of the recent problems.

In a statement Monday, the Los Angeles-based company said it is aware some state agencies have encountered "challenges" and that it has increased personnel and resources on Virginia's project.

The state created the Virginia Information Technologies Agency to manage its computer system after a legislative review in 2002 showed that the system was out of date and increasingly expensive to maintain.

Former governor Mark Warner (D) sought and received legislative approval to consolidate state computer operations into one agency and overhauled the system to make it more efficient and less expensive. The state selected Northrop Grumman after soliciting bids.

Lawmakers recently have expressed concerns about the removal of Lemuel C. Stewart Jr. as chief information officer hours after he questioned Northrop Grumman's performance; some also have asked why Pomata was named as a temporary replacement, serving in a dual role with potential conflicts.

"Certainly these are questions we want to know the answers to,'' said Del. Paula Miller (D-Norfolk).

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), chairman of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, questioned whether the information technologies agency's governing board was legally able to close its meeting April 16. "We need more information out in the public light,'' he said. "A lot of this was done behind closed doors."

Kaine (D) was in New York on Monday and unavailable for comment. In recent days, Kaine has acknowledged some service problems with Northrop Grumman and said he welcomes the legislature's review of the contract. But he has also said he continues to support efforts to consolidate the state's computer system.

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