- The Washington Times - Monday, August 17, 2009

RICHMOND | A state attorney general’s opinion says Virginia’s technology secretary, Leonard Pomata, can’t double as chief of the state’s troubled information technology superagency.

Attorney General William C. Mims’ opinion, made public late Friday, said the 2003 law that created the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) deliberately separated the two positions.

The Information Technology Investment Board (ITIB) made Mr. Pomata the interim replacement for dismissed Chief Information Officer Lemuel Stewart in June, just days after Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, appointed Mr. Pomata to the Cabinet post overseeing technology.

That put Mr. Pomata in charge of VITA as the agency came under legislative and media scrutiny for complaints that service was slow and unresponsive and that major deadlines were missed to update and consolidate state government’s disparate and far-flung computer systems.

Two legislative panels also have raised questions about VITA’s $2.4 billion, 10-year contract with Northrop Grumman, the largest in state history. The General Assembly’s investigative arm, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, is expected to wrap up by October a two-year examination of VITA, its Northrop Grumman partnership’s effect on state agencies and its relationship with the ITIB.

Mr. Kaine’s press secretary, Gordon Hickey, said the administration “has just now seen the opinion and will take the weekend to digest it.”

Mr. Mims’ opinion is advisory only, rendered at the request of Delegate Samuel A. Nixon Jr., Chesterfield County Republican, who sponsored the legislation creating VITA but has become one of the legislature’s most knowledgeable critics of its performance.

The opinion is likely to have little practical effect. Mr. Kaine said last week that the search for a permanent chief information officer is in its final stages, and Mr. Hickey said Friday that the position likely would be filled in less than a month.

VITA was proposed by Mr. Kaine’s predecessor, Mark R. Warner, to streamline the communications, information technology and computer systems in dozens of state agencies that had developed independently from one another for decades. Many of them were unable to communicate or share data with systems in other state agencies.

Many of the ideas for integrating the state’s computing functions and saving money were contained in a 2002 General Assembly report. The report found that having the technology secretary double as the information officer was “a limiting factor” because the position was not insulated from the political process. It recommended making the officer a separate position, Mr. Mims noted in his five-page opinion.

The opinion also noted that Mr. Pomata had served as a member of the board that appointed him the interim chief information officer.

“Should the Secretary also serve as CIO, this dual service would require the Board to have a contractual relationship with one of its members,” Mr. Mims wrote. He added that the state law “prohibits board members, who are state officers, from having personal interest in a contract with their own board.”

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