Prince William picks new leader for scandal-tarred IT office

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2010; PW01

An office rocked by scandal a year ago has a new leader, Prince William County officials said Tuesday.

Thomas A. McQuillan, a former IT official for New Mexico, will be the new chief information officer of the county's Office of Information Technology. County officials have been searching for a leader for about a year, after three then-employees of the office, along with another Virginia man, allegedly pulled off one of the largest bid-rigging and embezzlement scandals in county history.

"We took our time with the search and found the right person," County Executive Melissa S. Peacor said. "Tom has a broad range of experience in every aspect of [information technology]. His breadth of knowledge and experience in the field made him an excellent" choice.

McQuillan most recently was deputy Cabinet secretary for New Mexico's Department of Information Technology. Before that, the Michigan State University graduate spent 25 years as IT director for Grand Rapids, Mich.

Peacor said officials interviewed 22 candidates, some internally and some from across the country. McQuillan stood out, she said, because of his passion for the industry and his leadership skills.

"Throughout my career in information systems, I have been primarily involved in the management, design, development implementation and day-to-day operation of computer database systems for government and industry," McQuillan said in a statement. "This will be a great opportunity, and I am looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead."

County officials said McQuillan will be able to talk more about plans for the department after he starts work July 12.

Peacor said McQuillan is aware of the allegations of corruption that happened last year when Maneesh Gupta -- the IT department's former assistant chief information officer -- and three others allegedly rigged the county's contracting system to send $9 million in work to shell companies they created, officials close to the case said. The four men, who are due in court later this year, were indicted on 153 charges that included racketeering, bid-rigging, forgery, obtaining money by false pretenses and money laundering.

Since the incident, county officials have put new safeguards in place not only in the IT office but also countywide, Peacor said, noting that an internal controls council was formed to monitor all county departments.

"We had a bad thing happen to us, and the people who were involved are no longer here," Peacor said. "The response we put into place was swift, and we have a better IT department now than we did before. And we are looking to the future."

A national consulting firm was hired to study the controls and security measures in place for the IT department. County officials also scrutinized the department's budget and found $900,000 in savings, Peacor said. All IT vendors and employees now face strict background checks before being hired, she said, and stronger internal controls are in place, which will limit the authority of any employee.

"In IT, no one person should have the ability to sign off on contracts like [Gupta] did," Peacor said.

County officials said the more than 70 employees in IT have begun several new projects. The county is set to replace its public safety communications system and its land development system used for permitting. It will also upgrade its payroll system.

"We've done so much in the past year to make IT more transparent and accountable," Peacor said. "We've also capitalized on the talents of the people we have . . . and that wasn't being done before. I think everyone is looking forward to Tom coming and moving forward."

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