4 agencies earn A's on 2000 report card

Of 24 agencies that responded to a congressional survey, only seven are effectively
preparing their systems to deal with dates after Dec. 31, 1999, a House subcommittee
reported last week.


All but two Cabinet agencies--the Energy and Transportation departments-- responded to
the survey orchestrated by Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government
Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology.


"This is report-card time," Horn, a former university professor, said at a
press briefing on the survey results. "If this were a class in college, you would say
there are a lot of dum-dums."


In the report Horn released last week, the subcommittee staff graded agency plans for
handling year 2000 conversion work. Ten agencies earned Ds and four received Fs. Besides
the two non-responding departments, the staff also flunked the Labor Department and the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (see box).


"We were appalled that the federal government was not planning ahead for the new
millennium," said Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), chairwoman of the House Science
Subcommittee on Technology. Morella's subcommittee also has held hearings on the year 2000
issue.


"The agencies have got to get their computer acts together," said Rep. Peter
I. Blute (R-Mass.) "These grades have got to improve."


"The Department of Energy did not begin to react until the week after it received
the subcommittee's survey," Horn said, relaying what his staff learned from
conversations with department officials.


Although the survey findings were generally gloomy, the subcommittee did laud the work
of four agencies and awarded them As for getting out ahead of the problem.


Horn noted that the Social Security Administration, which is heading up an interagency
year 2000 working group, first began looking at the issue back in 1989. The Agency for
International Development, the Small Business Administration and the Office of Personnel
Management also are well positioned to make the necessary code changes in their systems,
the subcommittee found.


The survey questionnaire asked agencies to provide details of their plans for preparing
systems to handle dates beginning in 2000 and to estimate the costs they would incur for
this work.


Just six agencies provided estimates of the potential conversion cost. Horn said the
total was about $300 million. Industry analysts and the General Accounting Office have
estimated that the conversion work will cost the government between $20 billion and $30
billion.


The task is daunting, Horn and other House members acknowledged, but it still must be
addressed. Most agencies simply are not doing enough soon enough, Horn said. He promised
to keep pushing agencies to get their systems conversions programs in full swing.


Horn pointed out that the Defense Department had not yet completed an inventory of its
systems that will be affected by the date change nor created a master plan for
conversions. With many old systems still operating, DOD could face significant costs to
fix an estimated 350 million lines of code, the subcommittee concluded. Some estimates
have put the cost for DOD alone at upwards of $3 billion.


Despite the tough talk, lawmakers held out little hope that agencies would receive more
money for year 2000 conversion--unless they prepare better and justify the need.


Agencies might be able to get additional funding "if they make a real case,"
Horn said. Generally, however, agencies will have to work within their budgets, he said.


Blute said the conversion process is frustrating: The code work is labor-intensive and
adds no value other than letting systems work as they are supposed to anyway.
"There's no payback in this," he said, besides not having the systems crash.


Officials of several agencies expressed surprise at their grades and declined to
comment. Some systems managers, however, said they are making progress.


"We have gotten no indication that we have any major problems that can't be fixed
in time," said Mark A. Boster, deputy assistant attorney general for IRM. "We're
doing all the right things. We just don't have all the answers yet."


But the subcommittee disagreed and gave Justice a D for its work to date.


Although Energy did not respond to the survey, its officials questioned their failure
and pointed out that they are working on the problem. In June, chief information officer
S.W. Hall Jr. sent a memo to all DOE employees that said, "It is imperative we move
forward as quickly as possible to identify issues and formulate a plan for action that
will enable us to eliminate any problems created by year 2000."


The department also named a project manager and set up a World Wide Web home page just
for the year 2000 issue, a spokeswoman said.


Paul Wohlleben, acting IRM director at the Environmental Protection Agency, said the
year 2000 problem is the most important issue facing the agency and that managers are
working on a conversion plan.


"I believe we have put in place the kinds of programs we need to make those
changes," he said. EPA completed a draft plan after responding to the Horn survey,
Wohlleben said.


"As part of our preparation of our 1998 budget, which the agency is going through
right now, we sought to have each of the programs examine their system areas and look at
the costs," he said. "We're in the process of trying to determine what kind of
resources this will require."


Although EPA earned a D from the subcommittee, Wohlleben praised the survey as an
effective way to raise awareness about the year 2000 problem.


Agency Grade Plan Project manager Cost estimate


AID A Yes Yes No


OPM A Yes Yes $1.6 million


SBA A Yes Yes $4.9 million fiscal '96-'98


SSA A Yes Yes No


Education B Yes Yes $60 million


National Science Foundation C No Yes No over four years


Nuclear Regulatory Commission B Yes Yes No


State B Yes Yes $33 million- $66 million


DOD C No Yes No


Treasury C Yes Yes No


Agriculture D No Yes No


Commerce D No Yes No


EPA D No Yes No


General Services Administration D No Yes No


Health and Human Services D No Yes No


Housing and Urban Development D No Yes No


Interior D No Yes No


Justice D No Yes No


NASA D No Yes No


Veterans Affairs D No Yes No


Energy F No No No


FEMA F No No No


Labor F No No No


Transportation F No No No


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