The Virginia General Assembly will investigate this month's dismissal of CIO Lem Stewart, after he questioned Northrop Grumman's performance on a 10-year, $2 billion contract to modernize the state's computers and IT, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Virginia's CIO is overseen by the state's Information Technology Investment Board. The board's chairman, James McGuirk, said Stewart was released two weeks ago because of a "difference in tactics," not poor performance, according to the Post.

Stewart told the board at an emergency meeting in May that he planned to withhold money from the company because of substandard service. Board members said at the time they thought the action wasn't necessary, according to the newspaper. Northrop Grumman has offices in Arlington, Va.

Stewart, whose five-year contract ended in February, was working on a month-to-month contract, and will stay on as a consultant until a permanent replacement is found. Virginia Secretary of Technology Leonard Pomata will also serve as acting CIO in the meantime.

Paul W. Taylor, chief strategy officer of the Center for Digital Government, said deciphering exactly why Stewart was let go is further complicated by Virginia's governance structure: Its CIO reports to the board and the secretary of technology reports to Gov. Tim Kaine.

"They hired [Stewart] on a contract that deliberately was structured to go over a political transition. He had two years on either side of a political transition, and the board did that on purpose to avoid the politicization of the role," Taylor said. "They did the same thing with their chief applications officer, such that they wouldn't get caught up in the typical variety of politicization of being singularly attached to the governor."

Taylor said board members could've been planning to let go of Stewart prior to his comments about Northrop Grumman.

"I don't know how much more than a symbol Lem was, because he had gone from being the permanent CIO to kind of working as a temp ... and maybe they let him go as kind of a political safety valve. Let off some steam, and by then he was month to month anyway," Taylor said.

This turmoil in Virginia casts a shadow over other states like Texas and Georgia that have signed big outsourcing deals, Taylor said. "But only in a way that reminds people that when big dollars are being spent and big integrators are involved, the heat gets turned up on everybody," he said.

Photo: Former CIO of Virginia Lem Stewart. Photo courtesy of Virginia.gov.

 

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor