Thursday, July 9, 2009
The largest contract in Virginia history was born in 2003, after a legislative review showed that the state's computer system was out of date and increasingly expensive to maintain.
Six years later, the troubled, 10-year, $2.2 billion contract with Northrop Grumman could cause headaches for those running for office.
Lawmakers have begun to blame each other for the problems, which include missed deadlines, cost overruns and poor service.
Some lawmakers are trying to use the issue to their advantage, although both gubernatorial candidates -- state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) and Republican Robert F. McDonnell -- have stayed uncharacteristically silent on the matter.
Deeds, running as the heir apparent to the past two Democratic governors, has to be careful not to criticize a plan that was the brainchild of Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) and has largely been implemented under Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). In a statement this week, Deeds expressed support for the legislative inquiries. "These implementation problems need to be fixed," he said.
McDonnell, who has unveiled proposals supporting additional public-private ventures, doesn't want to hurt Republican efforts to implement partnerships with companies, particularly on transportation projects. But when asked about the contract this week, McDonnell had some strong words.
"Virginia's outsourcing contract with Northrop Grumman, championed by Governor Tim Kaine, has not been properly managed,'' McDonnell said. "Reports of security breaches . . . missed deadlines, delays and costs overruns are very troubling and must be promptly corrected. There needs to be more effective management, openness and increased accountability within [the agency], and this needs to happen now."
McDonnell had pledged to run similar programs like businesses, add transparency to contracts, request regular audits and seek more input from state employees.
Virginia, which is accustomed to accolades for being the best-managed state, isn't used to such problems. But the governor's office and the General Assembly -- Democrats and Republicans -- all had a hand in creating the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.
Warner proposed, and received legislative approval for, consolidating the state's computer operations into one agency and overhauling the system to make it more efficient and less expensive. As legislators, Deeds and McDonnell voted for the bill.
The state accepted bids and selected Northrop Grumman for the contract. With thousands of workers here, the company is one of the state's largest employers.