Where’s the Beef? VITA Mystery Solved.

We have tracked the fortunes of the Virginia Information Technology Agency on this blog with some regularity. Clearly, the Warner administration has ambitious plans to transform the delivery of IT services in state government: The 10-year, $2 billion contract assigned to Northrop Grumman may be the biggest chunk of state IT business entrusted with the private sector anywhere in the country.

At the same time, this blog has received input from state employees wondering, Where’s the Beef? If VITA’s such a hot idea, where are all the efficiencies and savings that were promised? Back in 2003, then-Secretary of Technology George Newstrom forecast that the state would have reaped $100 million in cumulative savings by 2005. Well, 2005 has come and darn near gone. Show me the money!

Eugene Huang, Newstrom’s successor, answers those questions in my latest column, “Mission Creep.” Bottom line: Savings so far amount to about $50 million total, about half of what was expected. Huang blames the General Assembly: Legislators wouldn’t pony up the modest up-front capital to invest in money-saving improvements the administration was counting on. Meanwhile, in its contract with Northrop Grumman, the state is getting an IT system with greater security and redundancy than exists now. Huang maintains that the state will save $240 million compared to the cost of undertaking the upgrade itself.

Is Huang dishing out the straight poop, or he is blowing smoke? I’d welcome comments from informed observers.

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10 responses to “Where’s the Beef? VITA Mystery Solved.”

  1. Will Vehrs Avatar

    If it sounds too good to be true ….

    I have a hard time understanding how Northrop Grumman is going to hire state workers at higher rates, plus bonuses, as well as seemingly give the state all sorts of upgraded equipment, while still saving the state money. Are we that inefficienct now, the best-managed state in the US? Maybe they can do it, but like the inital rush over VITA, these savings are projected out into an uncertain future. It’s easy to back away from promises by blaming someone else for failing to fund the “investment” required for the “savings”–or is it the “cost avoidance?–to be realized.

    On another topic, continued operations, are we supposed to wait until every state worker is given a laptop, a blackberry, and god knows what else before we can keep the state going in the event of a disaster? What would we do if a disaster hit tomorrow?

    I can’t get my agency to think about how we’d do things for one day in the event of a weather event.

    Not everything IT-related requires big IT expenditures.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Two things I find interesting about this whole VITA situation: the General Assembly exempted themselves from VITA and the subsequent contract with NG and the large software products (Acct & HR) aren’t on this agreement. Huang talks about how 98% (a number I question) of the state’s data could be taken out by a truck filled with fertilizer, how much of this data is on the “mainframe” type systems (HR & Acct mentioned above) that aren’t affected by this contract? There is a separate PPEA agreement for the large software systems (HR and Accounting), this is where the big savings, eliminating redundency and large sections of the state’s data reside. Since this NG contract doesn’t affect most of the HR software, Accounting software or any of the GA systems, how will the backup data center in SW VA make a difference with the majority of the state’s data?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    State government isn’t quite like a business. The majority of the data is about the public. There may be some state employee data and accounting data, but most of the data the state holds is government related.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    As a state employee, I surely would not want my information public. For example, personal addresses, bank account numbers, credit card numbers (eVa), etc. With that said, I’m still not convinced we need to pay a private company $2 billion to safe-quard it. For that amount of money, it seems the current staff could be trained as needed and VITA could afford to buy whatever hardware/software we may need. I’m just not convinced that padding the pockets of private companies and becoming locked in to their prices is the way to go. It seems it would open doors to gouging as it has for other government entities and private companies.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Perspectives are interesting. You have the ‘padding’ of corporate pockets or the ‘waste and inefficiency’ of state government. Both can be true and both can be false. It just depends on the situation. Details, details, details…matter.

    I don’t know the details, so I’ll not offer an opinion. I will suggest that the more light shown on the details of the analysis – put out in public – the better the decision can be judged.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    VITA can’t have it both ways. They report on the great things they’ve done and how much they have saved but on the other end of the stick they need to sell off everything to a private company. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Their business is IT. Nothing else. Not fighter jets or top secret missions or anything else. I could understand if they were contracting for something like rockets or space probes. We don’t have the skills nor would it be cost efficient to try to reinvent the wheel but we’re talking hardware and software here. If NG can cut good deals with HP and Gateway, why can’t VITA? If NG can attract and maintain the best employees, why can’t VITA? The buying power is there, the money is there, the employees are there. Once we sell off everything to NG, our buying power is gone!

    What am I missing?

  7. theShadow Avatar

    I suppose the part that frustrates state employees the most is the opinion of many of the “private business” crossovers – like the Governor, the CIO, and the SOTECH – that anything done by the state has got to be crap, and any state employee is a lazy and ignorant waste of money.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Shadow, I think you’re making unjustified inferences. I’ve seen no evidence that the Governor, CIO or Secretary of Technology — and I’ve spoken to the SoTECH at length — harbors a view remotely resembling the idea that “anything done by the state has got to be crap, and any state employee is a lazy and ignorant waste of money.”

    The reality is the state employees work within an organizational structure that makes it very difficult to institute change. Also, state employees are governed by a set of personnel rules and regulations that make it difficult to weed out the deadwood — which every organization has, public or private — and difficult to financially reward or incentivize excellence. I’ve been impressed by the dedication of most of the state employees I’ve encountered. But just because there are many fine, self-motivated individuals working for the state doesn’t mean that they don’t work within an outdated organizational structure. And the organization of Virginia’s IT services was massively redundant and inefficient — for reasons that had nothing to do with the employees, and everything to do with the way state bureaucracies function.

    By the way, you’ll be glad to know that the current SoTECH reads your blog. “I read the blogs — like everyone else,” he told me. He mentioned yours in particular.

  9. theShadow Avatar

    The SOTECH has made some comments in print that state employees have taken as criticism of their work ethic. The former SOTECH made them as well. Various comments have been made in presentations and memos that give the same feeling of “private superiority” over state workers. It is rare that the comments seem aimed at the structure, although I’m sure it could be rationalized that way. But the state workforce is human and has human failings, one of which is a need to feel support and loyalty from their leaders. That isn’t there right now, at least from what I’ve been hearing.

    But at least it’s nice that Secretary Huang admitted to reading my blog. Him and that guy from the Ukraine…

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    If there are problems with the structure, rules and regulations of the state that are preventing us from being able to perform at our peak then why don’t they change those things instead of selling everything out? It would seem that would be the better choice in the long run…

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