By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010; B04
RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov.-elect Robert F. McDonnell on Wednesday tapped a well-known industry expert from Northern Virginia to be his secretary of technology, a job that has taken on added importance as the state tries to resolve a multibillion-dollar computer contract dispute.
After considering current and former legislators for the job, McDonnell (R) instead selected Jim Duffey, a longtime executive at a major global technology services company and former vice chairman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
The new technology chief's first priority will be a 10-year, $2.2 billion computer contract with Northrop Grumman. State officials say the company has missed key deadlines, has not adequately maintained inventory and has provided poor service to state agencies under the largest contract in state history.
Northrop Grumman officials acknowledged some problems, but they expressed confidence that they are delivering a high-quality product. They said they are optimistic that changes in the project will lead to improvements in the "unique partnership."
"The situation there is unacceptable,'' McDonnell said at a news conference at the state Capitol. "It's a big problem. It's a tremendous amount of money. It's an absolute top priority for the secretary to get the operations of the [Virginia Information Technologies Agency] running right for the taxpayers."
Duffey said he needs time to study the issue before saying how he will approach it. McDonnell said he and Duffey are talking with legislators, auditors and experts in others states about how to fix the contract and improve the state agency.
"He's got to clean a mess up there,'' said John Backus, managing partner with New Atlantic Ventures of Reston. "I think he's got the credibility to do that."
In a statement, Northrop Grumman praised Duffey. "We know him to be a well-qualified and respected leader in the technology community,'' spokeswoman Christy Whitman said.
Duffey was a manager at Electronic Data Systems, which is now part of Hewlett-Packard, for two dozen years. He is now president of his own consulting firm.
Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, said Duffey would be a impressive ambassador to the state as it tries to lure companies to Virginia from other states and around the world.
High-tech jobs make up nearly 17 percent of total employment in Virginia, producing 32 percent of total wages earned, according to Chris Chmura at Chmura Economic Analysis.
Duffey was praised by Democratic officials and by George C. Newstrom, who was technology secretary during Democrat Mark R. Warner's term as governor. Newstrom called Duffey an "exceptional businessman" and a "terrific choice."
McDonnell chose a former top U.S. Interior Department official, Doug Domenech, to be secretary of natural resources. Domenech is senior vice president of a Washington-based lobbying firm and a principal in a green energy consulting company. He previously worked for the Forest Resources Association.
His tenure at Interior coincided with the influence-peddling scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who went to prison after being convicted of federal charges related to the defrauding of American Indian tribes. Domenech was mentioned in documents and articles involving the case, but he was never implicated in Abramoff's activities.
Domenech, of Loudoun County, served as campaign manager in 1993 for Michael P. Farris, a home-schooling advocate who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. The two men formed the Madison Project, an organization to help elect conservative Republicans to state and national office.
McDonnell also announced that former Republican legislator Terrie Suit is his choice to be assistant to the governor for commonwealth preparedness. Suit, who has worked as a mortgage loan officer and a lobbyist, established extensive contacts with the military during nine years on the Virginia Military Advisory Council and as the wife of a former Navy SEAL. She and McDonnell served together in the House of Delegates, with both representing Virginia Beach.
McDonnell will be sworn in as governor Jan. 16. He has two Cabinet secretaries left to name -- for health and human resources and for education. Secretaries must be confirmed by the General Assembly.
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.