House date code watchers shine light on selves

Some members, House computer specialists and the Inspector General's Office are
complaining that the work has been slow so far. They cautioned that if House leaders do
not commit adequate financial and political capital to the project, the work may not be
finished on time.


The House's slow progress with the year 2000 problem is attributable to many factors,
said House staff members familiar with the issue.


The primary reason is that the Chief Administrative Office has not paid enough
attention to the issue, one staff member said. CAO oversees House Information Resources,
the House's information technology shop.


In a May report, the IG's Office said HIR had failed to implement fundamental
management practices. The report unleashed more than two dozen recommendations.


Another factor is that HIR does not have an accurate count of how many systems the
House has.


According to the IG's report, HIR Management Practices Undermine the House's Ability
to Keep Pace with Technological Changes
, the House has more than 200 systems. It
identified as mission critical the Financial Management System (FMS), Members Integrated
Network (MIN), Integrated Systems Information Services (ISIS), Legislative Information
Management System (LIMS) and Office Management System (OMS). HIR hosts the systems on an
IBM mainframe.


House leaders have decided to keep LIMS until 2004, when it will be replaced. The fate
of FMS is still being debated. The House plans to move OMS to a client-server platform.
MIN and ISIS will be incorporated into the Legislative Information System run by the
Congressional Research Service, House staff members said.


A third problem, one that staff members said would likely prove hardest to resolve, is
gaining the cooperation of House members who buy hardware and software for their
Washington and district offices without necessarily coordinating with HIR.


"We don't have the easiest-to-work-with clients," the House computer
specialist said. "We have a tough group of customers and not the most tolerant. They
have to tell us how much of the stuff is year 2000-compliant."


To get a grip on the issue, HIR has hired Science Applications International Corp. of
San Diego to assess House systems, determine what work is needed and coordinate year 2000
projects. SAIC will issue a preliminary report this month.


The cost of repairing or replacing systems is also unclear. HIR's preliminary estimate
put the figure at about $8 million.


Despite the apparent hurdles, House staff members said they are confident they can
handle the task if House leaders commit the money and cooperate with HIR and SAIC.


The IG's Office seemed less sure, and in a November report called the House's year 2000
plans unconvincing. The office said the plan primarily covers awareness and assessment
phases, but not renovation, validation or implementation.


"In the plan, these phases were neither spelled out in detail, nor were there
references to future provisions in the year 2000 plan for their completion," the IG
report said.


House staff members said HIR is preparing another year 2000 report.


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