Lawmakers get promise, not apology for computer outage

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia leaders wanted an apology for the computer outage that disrupted nearly 30 state agencies beginning August 25. Instead, they got a $250,000 promise.

The state's computer contractor, Northrop Grumman, offered to pay that amount to figure out what went so terribly wrong.

Monday at the DMV was busy, like normal. A much different scene compared to that of two weeks ago, when the computers wouldn't work, and the seats were empty. Now, the General Assembly's watchdogs, known as the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), want to know why the system there, and, at 25 other agencies went down.

"The system was unable to self-heal, which is what it should've done," said Sam Nixon, of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.

IT chiefs and the state's computer contractor called the meltdown "regrettable," and "unacceptable."

"I'm not going to make excuses as why it took so long to recover our data from backup systems. That's clearly an area of focus that we need to look at," said Sam Abbate of Northrop Grumman.

But at least one lawmaker wanted something bigger than that.

"It seems to me that Northrop Grumman should perhaps consider making an apology in this form," said Sen. Edd Houck (D, Spotsylvania), holding up a full page newspaper advertisement.

Instead of a full-page public apology, Northrop Grumman offered to pay $250,000 to have an investigator figure out what caused a part of its billion-dollar system to go bad.

The component that messed up the agencies is said to be effective 99.999 percent of the time. The model has gone 1.2 billion hours worldwide without  failing. And yet that still wasn't good enough.

Lawmakers want better backups.

"We might have little failures. We've had lots and lots and LOTS and LOTS of little failures. But we  wouldn't have the calamity that we've had," said Sen. Janet Howell (D, Reston).

They also want fines: $100,000 for lost service. More, for lost productivity, which may be difficult to get.

"It can only happen if the claims result from willful or gross misconduct, which is a fairly high bar to set," said Ashley Colvin of JLARC.

The investigation will be conducted by an independent third party. The work is expected to be complete within three months.

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