No timetable set for return of Va. DMV licensing service

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A computer outage that has wreaked havoc on Virginia state agencies entered its seventh day Wednesday, and officials acknowledged that the failure was more complicated than they originally thought.

Three state agencies -- the board of elections and the departments of motor vehicles and taxation -- are still experiencing major computer issues that are hampering their daily operations, said Marcella Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, which oversees the state's computer network.

Computers for 24 other affected agencies are operational, but a handful are experiencing "minor problems," allowing them to conduct business but "not as efficiently," Williamson said. Those agencies include the departments of social services, environmental quality, juvenile justice, criminal justice services, professional and occupational regulation, and information technologies.

The damaged storage unit at the heart of the problem -- a small piece of computer hardware housed in a massive state facility near Richmond -- has been repaired, but workers are now verifying and restoring data, which officials called an "extremely time-consuming process." State officials said the outage affected only 485 of the state's 4,800 data servers but that fixes have taken longer than they expected.

"This outage has not crippled state government. It has created some challenges and the DMV outage has impacted citizens seeking drivers' licenses, but the vast majority of state government computing functions are fully operational," Williamson said.

Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor that handles the $2.4 billion Virginia computer contract, said Tuesday that the company supports Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's push for an independent probe of the computer failure and promised to learn from it.

"We will conduct a root cause analysis, carefully analyze and review the findings, develop lessons learned and make necessary changes," said Sam Abbate, Northrop's vice president for the state IT program.

The outages have left many Virginians unable to perform a variety of routine services.

Taxpayers have been unable to file returns, make payments or register online through the state's Department of Taxation. Account-specific information is unavailable, including data about bills and refunds.

"We are currently restoring and testing our systems and hope to be fully back online by Wednesday morning," said Joel Davison, a spokesman for the tax agency.

The voter registration database at the Virginia State Board of Elections was still off-line Tuesday. State residents can still apply to register to vote, but those applications will not be processed until the agency's database is restored.

All 74 Department of Motor Vehicles service centers across the state have been unable to issue new or replacement driver's licenses or identification cards since last Wednesday afternoon. Melanie Stokes, a DMV spokeswoman, said licensing services would still be down Wednesday, and no timetable for their return has been set.

When the system goes back online, Stokes said, DMV officials are preparing for an influx of at least 32,000 Virginia residents who have been waiting to renew or get new licenses in person. Service centers will be fully staffed, additional part-time employees are on standby, crowd control measures will be implemented and extended office hours are being considered, she said.

Virginia State Police won't take any enforcement action for driver's licenses that expire from Aug. 25 through Sept. 30, officials said.

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