Year 2000 Failures Likely

Federal agencies will probably not be able to prevent some of their computers from malfunctioning in the year 2000 because of a coding snafu, General Accounting Office officials told Congress yesterday.

Testifying before the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, GAO Director of Information Resources Management Joel Willemsen said there is a high probability that it is too late for agencies to fix all the coding in their computers that will cause the computers to think it is 1900 instead of 2000.

Because computer applications developed in the 1960s and 1970s use six digit date codes, when the date hits 01-01-00, the applications will read that as 1900. Some computer systems will simply freeze up or shut down when this happens. Others will continue to function, but the data they work with will be corrupted.

Willemsen said agencies should concentrate on fixing essential computer systems like air traffic control systems, Medicare databases, and national defense systems. GAO has categorized the Year 2000 problem as one of 25 high-risk areas for federal managers.

Earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget estimated it would cost the federal government $2.3 billion to update all its computer programs to deal with the year 2000 problem. Last year, industry experts estimated the cost at closer to $30 billion.

Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the subcommittee, questioned the OMB estimate, calling it "way too low."

GAO has released a guide for federal information technology managers to follow as they make Year 2000 fixes. It identifies five steps in the process:

  • Awareness. Define the year 2000 problem and gain executive level support. Establish a year 2000 program team. Ensure that everyone in the organization is aware of the problem.
  • Assessment. Assess the year 2000 impact on the enterprise. Identify core business areas, inventory and analyze systems supporting the core business areas, and prioritize their conversion or replacement. Develop contingency plans to handle data exchange issues, lack of data, and bad data. Identify and secure the necessary resources.
  • Renovation. Convert, replace, or eliminate selected platforms, applications, databases and utilities. Modify interfaces.
  • Validation. Test, verify, and validate converted or replaced platforms, applications, databases, and utilities. Test the performance, functionality, and integration of converted or replaced platforms, applications, databases, utilities and interfaces in an operational environment.
  • Implementation. Implement converted or replaced platforms, applications, databases, utilities and interfaces. Implement data exchange contingency plans, if necessary.
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