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Divorce Settlement
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND, VA – It’s never good when a marriage ends in divorce, even when government agencies are involved. But the long and rocky partnership between the commonwealth and Fairfax-based mega defense and information technology contractor Northrop Grumman is in the final stages of a messy split that rivals that of any high profile celebrity breakup.

The commonwealth could pay more than $100 million to Northrop Grumman to end, nearly one year early, a $2.4 billion 13-year relationship in which it provided comprehensive and exclusive IT services to state government agencies through the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. The termination fee itself is $76 million, but total payouts may rocket over $100 million higher pending ongoing litigation against each other.

(Historical side note: In the 1960s, well before Grumman merged with Northrop, the then- Long Island, New York based aerospace company developed the Lunar Excursion Module spacecraft that carried American astronauts to the surface of the moon during NASA’s Project Apollo. The story of its designing, building and meeting its deadline is a touching tale of American pride.)

Lawmakers were briefed on the breakup and VITA’s new partnerships during a recent presentation by Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission staff. JLARC is the General Assembly’s watchdog agency.

Although necessary in this case, hitting the dating scene immediately after a breakup isn’t always the best way to go. New vendors Science Applications International Corp. and Tempus Nova had a backlog of more than 3,000 help requests within a few months of taking over the contract on a transitional basis, and could not guarantee 24-hour support.

That’s not how to impress the new family. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City County) called it a "nightmare situation” and warned that a legislative fix would soon be in order if matters were not sorted out ASAP.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said he was "dumbfounded,” noting that Virginia’s 55,000 employees operate around-the-clock "in this day and time.” Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Steve Landes (R-Augusta County) directly disputed the value the two new vendors supposedly now provide. (There are five other vendor contracts, as well, replacing the mammoth single deal with Northrop Grumman.)

By adding staff at no additional expense to the state, the backlog currently is at 850. Still, commission members considered more litigation, at least as a last resort. VITA officials urged more patience, citing the mess inherited from "uncooperative incumbent” Northrop Grumman.

Blaming the ex can only get you so far because it takes two to tango. Right now, VITA is doing plenty of dancing with its new partners. It’s just not a wedding dance.