A legal standoff between the Virginia Information Technologies Agency and Northrop Grumman over access to a data center in Southwest Virginia has ended in a settlement instead of court.
The state agency confirmed Thursday evening that it had reached an agreement with the technology giant to allow a repair team access to the Southwestern Enterprise Solutions Center in Russell County to replace a disaster recovery system that is crucial to operations at a dozen state agencies.
The settlement will allow VITA and Northrop Grumman to avoid a hearing that had been scheduled on Friday in Richmond Circuit Court over the state’s request for an emergency injunction for access to the data center to repair what it described as an “inoperative” mainframe system that serves as emergency backup in case of a disaster at the primary data center the company runs in Chester.
“VITA now will coordinate with IBM technicians to re-establish critical disaster recovery capabilities for the agencies that use the mainframe,” agency spokeswoman Marcella Williamson said in a statement about the settlement.
Northrop Grumman was not prepared to comment Thursday night.
The “agreement in principle” includes liability provisions required by Northrop Grumman to allow outside technicians into a center that also serves a number of other customers. The company had blocked the repair crew from entering the building on July 20 after VITA declined to sign a liability agreement that it considered too broad and reaching into a much wider dispute over the state’s disentanglement from a 13-year, $2.4 billion contract.
“The liability between VITA and Northrop Grumman is tailored to this project, and is not as broad as proposed earlier by Northrop Grumman,” Williamson said. “The commonwealth preserves its rights and this agreement does no harm to the commonwealth.”
VITA also made clear that the agreement does not settle the broader legal battle the agency and company are waging over the terms of disentanglement from a once-heralded deal that each side has accused the other of breaching.
It also does not affect a pending state request for a pretrial injunction to require Northrop Grumman to perform several technical duties necessary to allow the transition of messaging services to a new vendor that has waited almost a year to begin work.
“This agreement pertains only to the mainframe,” Williamson said. “The messaging project is still pending, as are other transition efforts to move from Northrop Grumman’s contract to new service providers.”
Repairing the backup system was crucial for ensuring that major state agencies — such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Social Services and the Virginia Retirement System — wouldn’t lose their computer systems if a disaster shut down the center in Chester.
“Our main goal during this transition to new service providers is to protect the commonwealth and ensure reliable information technology services for state agencies that serve our citizens, businesses and visitors,” Williamson said.