Obama's CTO pick faces queries on Va. outsourcing pacts

Aneesh Chopra oversaw implementation of Northrop Grumman, HCL contracts

Aneesh Chopra, appointed last month as the federal government's chief technology officer by President Barack Obama, may face questions at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing today about his use of technology outsourcing in his previous post as Virginia's secretary of technology.

Chopra is slated to face questions from members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during a confirmation hearing later today.

In 2007, Virginia signed an outsourcing contract for content management systems with HCL America Inc. (download PDF), which is part of HCL Technologies Ltd. in Noida, India. The Virginia Information Technologies Agency does allow work to be performed at HCL facilities in India, though individual agencies can add security requirements for offshore work, said Jerry Simonoff, director of IT investments and enterprise solutions for VITA.

Chopra was named to the Virginia post in 2005, just after the state government approved a 10-year, $2 billion agreement with Northrop Grumman Corp. to outsource the state's IT infrastructure, including its help desks and data centers. At the time, officials said that the state's IT infrastructure was out of date and that about half of its IT equipment was more than eight years old.

The deal remains one of the largest outsourcing deals ever signed by a state government entity.

The Northrop Grumman contract required that Northrop Grumman keep the IT work and data centers in the state. After signing the deal, two-thirds of VITA's IT staff took jobs with Northrop Grumman. The others remained with the state but got assignments from the contractor, according to Virginia officials.

That part of the contract reflects the requirements of several states, including New Jersey, which in 2005 adopted a law requiring that all contracted work "shall be performed within in the United States." At the time, New Jersey officials cited fears of job losses among state technology workers.

Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at Federal Sources Inc., a McLean Va.-based research firm, said it's unlikely that Chopra's decision to sign outsourcing agreements in Virginia indicates he would take a similar path as CIO of the U.S. Legal requirements, union contracts and other constraints would likely prevent the outsourcing of all U.S. government IT operations, he added. "I think [Chopra's experience with outsourcing] will be useful in informing the agencies on how they might do business, but you've got a whole bunch of other issues in place," Bjorklund said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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