Final 2000 regs are out

The government has turned back the clock to craft a standard procurement regulation for
ensuring that all agencies buy commercial products that will work come 2000. The rule
takes effect in mid-October.


Borrowing from a warranty clause developed last year, the FAR Civilian Agency
Acquisition and Defense Acquisition Regulations councils have refurbished the government's
year 2000 rule regarding agency and vendor obligations for guaranteeing that federal
systems will perform date and time processing tasks after Dec. 31, 1999.


The councils had issued an interim compliance rule in January requiring agencies to
issue solicitations with specifications for products sure to handle the century date
change. But several industry trade associations complained that the temporary Federal
Acquisition Regulation language could have been interpreted to hold vendors responsible
for guaranteeing interoperability.


Meanwhile, President Clinton this month vouched that federal, state and local
government systems will be ready for 2000.


There will be no mass systems failures, he said at a White House press conference.


Lawmakers have been pushing Clinton to take a more active role in the issue, but so far
the White House has sidestepped a request from four House members that the administration
establish a year 2000 czar.


As to the new procurement rule, General Services Administration officials said the
final FAR Council clause now more closely resembles the year 2000 warranty clause that
vendors and GSA officials agreed upon in September 1996.


The new FAR clause defines year 2000-ready as information technology that accurately
processes date and time data "including but not limited to, calculating, comparing
and sequencing from, into and between the 20th and 21st centuries and the years 1999 and
2000 and leap year calculations."


"The year 2000 FAR rule sends a clear message that the federal government is
serious about the year 2000 problem and intends to buy only year 2000-compliant
products," said Laurence Wolfe, GSA's acting deputy associate administrator for
information technology. "Industry wanted the definition to be closer to the one used
in the GSA warranty clause and this creates more consistency between them."


Yet industry groups are concerned that the FAR language does not explicitly define the
government's date processing requirements. The Information Technology Association of
America said it could not endorse the clause as a standard because of its time references.


"GSA has been very good in consulting with industry on this issue," said Olga
Grkavac, ITAA's senior vice president systems integration. "But the issue remains one
of date representation, and the introduction of the issue of time is confusing. It's very
important that the definition be precise."


The final FAR rule mandates that federal solicitations and contracts require year
2000-ready technology or demand that systems be upgraded to meet date code requirements.
Agencies also should describe the installed IT base to be blended with new products and
state whether their existing IT environment is year 2000-ready.


As for liability, the FAR rule states that if correct date and time data is supplied,
then systems must be able to process the data accurately. Agencies are expected to test
products, according to the rule, and any system processing failures will not be excused
because of another product's failure.


"The rule's intent goes back to the old adage about garbage in and garbage
out," Wolfe said. "If you put bad dates in, you have to expect bad dates to come
out. Year 2000-compliant products must always produce correct results."


Wolfe said GSA also has prepared a white paper to help agencies use the FAR rule and
deal with year 2000 problems. The paper will be issued during GSA's annual IRM Conference
in Hershey, Pa., next week.


The president also has put year 2000-ready systems on the White House's millennium
agenda. He said he assures American citizens that the federal government, in cooperation
with industry and state and local governments, is working to prevent interruption in
government services that rely on federal computer systems.


"We can't have the American people looking to a new century and a new millennium
with their computers, the very symbol of modernity and the modern age, holding them
back," he said at a White House press conference on planning year 2000 celebration
activities.


Clinton said he is well aware of industry reports about year 2000 problems. But he did
not discuss the status of federal date code fixes or the debate over how much it will cost
agencies to modify their code.


Office of Management and Budget officials estimate that the government's total year
2000 repair bill will run about $2.8 billion. But many industry analysts predict that it
will cost the government more than $30 billion.


Clinton also said the White House will set up a millennium section on the its World
Wide Web site at http://www.whitehouse.gov.


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