President makes year 2000 stump speech

Using the bully pulpit for the year 2000 problem for the first time, President Clinton
last week promised the public that agencies would finish their date code work on time.


“The solution, unfortunately, is massive, painstaking and labor-intensive,”
Clinton said in a speech at the National Academy of Sciences. “It will take a lot of
time to rewrite lines of computer code in existing systems, to buy new ones and to put in
place backup plans so that essential business and government services are not
interrupted.”


Although neither Clinton nor Vice President Al Gore made any major announcements about
government systems, it was the administration’s most public year 2000 statement yet.
Congress and industry officials have been urging Clinton to be more outspoken on the
issue.


In recent weeks, lawmakers have been at odds over special funds for date code
emergencies that may arise. A group of conservative House Republicans is demanding that
the monies be offset by cuts in the fiscal 1999 budget [GCN, July 13, Page 3].


“In my proposed balanced budget for 1999, I asked Congress to fund this initiative
on a one-time basis because it is literally a once-in-a-lifetime challenge,” Clinton
said. “I urge the Congress to fully fund it and to provide contingency funding so
that we can respond to the unforeseen difficulties that are sure to arise as we near
January 2000.”


“I think we all understand that this is a case where we cannot allow, even in this
election season, any shred of partisanship to impinge on the national interest,” the
president said, adding that year 2000 readiness must not become a political football.


Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight
Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, reiterated that somehow
Congress will make year 2000 money available. “There is no problem on the
money,” he said. “This is an emergency.”


Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000
Technology Problem, made a similar commitment for the Senate. “I urge the House to
stop requiring an offset for this,” he said. “This is a one-time act.”


Horn, who has called for the White House to become more directly involved in the
government’s date code efforts, said Clinton’s speech was a good start for the
administration.


“The news is that the president of the United States has now made a
statement,” he said. “The period of denial is over.”


The president walked a fine line between informing the public and causing panic, Horn
said. “I’m not an alarmist on this either,” he said.


Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America in
Arlington, Va., said he would have liked to see Clinton speak up earlier, but added that
later is better than never.


Clinton said the administration is proposing a number of initiatives to emphasize year
2000 efforts:


Gloria Parker, chief information officer for the Housing and Urban Development
Department, said the speech ought to help agencies by making it clear that the White House
is making date code remediation a priority.


Interior Department CIO Daryl White said the speech was helpful but that Congress’
promise of adequate funding is most important.  

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