Judge: HPE must keep working on DMV IT project

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A judge on Monday ordered Hewlett Packard Enterprise to continue working on a notorious R.I. Division of Motor Vehicles computer upgrade after the company was taken to court by the Raimondo administration for threatening to walk off the job.

In a bench decision, R.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein granted the administration’s request for a temporary restraining order to require HPE to continue working on the project, according to a statement from the judiciary.

“I am very pleased with today’s ruling, and will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect Rhode Island’s taxpayers against a vendor that has tried to hold our project hostage,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

In an email, a spokesman for HPE said: “Given this is now an ongoing legal matter, HPE has no further comment at this time.”

The DMV IT project has now dragged on for nearly a decade. The two sides signed a contract last year that indicated the project would be done by this past Sept. 28, but the administration filed suit Nov. 1 after HPE allegedly demanded nearly $12 million more to finish its work; HP has said it did nothing wrong.

The DMV has now delayed the system’s launch until next June.

“Judge Silverstein noted the sharp divide between the parties over the contractual obligations, that HPE had threatened to walk away if it was not paid what it says it is owed, and that the state would suffer ‘immediate and irreparable harm’ if the project were to stop prior to completion,” the statement said.

Earlier this month Silverstein ordered both sides into mediation with retired R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams, but those talks have not been successful so far, according to the statement.

Silverstein ordered the two sides to prepare for “expedited arguments” after Dec. 1 to determine whether he should order a preliminary injunction and a trial on the merits over the DMV project. He also ordered them back into mediation.

In addition, Silverstein “ordered HPE to deposit with the court by Wednesday afternoon copies of the various source codes, databases and other project-related data, and to keeps those files updated with the court on a weekly basis pending the outcome of the litigation,” the statement said.

“The judge’s ruling today keeps the Rhode Island Modernization System on course for completion in the coming weeks,” Rob Hull, director of the R.I. Department of Revenue, said in a statement. “It is incomprehensible that Hewlett Packard Enterprise would seek to bail on its obligations so close to the finish line. The ruling maintains the DMV’s access to the completed portions of RIMS and keeps HPE employees working at the job they promised to finish.”

Rhode Island is one of at least seven states that have wound up in a dispute with HPE and its predecessor company over government IT projects allegedly gone wrong.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram