Date code work is No. 1 priority

Education’s Pauline Lynch
coordinates the collection of data, abstracts, journal articles, dissertations,
statistical reports and case histories on educational topics for the Education Resources
Information Center database. The Ask ERIC database resides on a 167-MHz Sun Microsystems
Ultra HPC 3000 server with 256M of RAM, a 36G hard drive and 30G of RAID storage. Users
can visit Ask ERIC on the Web at http://www.aspensys.com/eric.



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Nina Winkler was recently appointed the Education Department’s
Year 2000 project director in the Office of the Chief Information Officer. Before taking
the job, Winkler served as director of policy, training and analysis services in the
Student Financial Assistance Programs Directorate of the Office of Postsecondary
Education.


Before moving to OPE, Winkler served as deputy director of the department’s
Planning and Evaluation Service. She also worked at the Office of Management and Budget,
Congress, and as an emergency planning officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


Winkler has a bachelor’s degree from Lynchburg College in Virginia, a
master’s in public administration from George Washington University and a
master’s in business administration from Harvard University.


GCN caught up with Winkler between meetings to discuss the best way to ready the
department’s systems for the year 2000.


WINKLER: Our overriding goal is to
ensure that all of our systems can operate properly after the turn of the century and
beyond. We are trying to do everything we need to do to be ready, including renovating,
validating any of the systems that need work, developing contingency plans in case they
don’t work and upgrading any embedded technology.


We are in a somewhat unique situation, since we run several large student loan
programs. I don’t know of any other federal agency that has as many small multiple
loans with individual people as the Education Department. These are operations which are
very important to people at a crucial point in their lives. Many of the elements in these
systems involve dates, and some of them are already collecting dates into the year 2000
because the students in college today will graduate and begin repaying their loans after
the year 2000.


We also have some unique data exchanges that are not common to other businesses.


We exchange data with entities outside the department and among our own systems. We
have to test after we have done all the renovations to make sure the systems will all work
again together after the work is completed. For example, under the law we are required to
check when a student puts his or her Social Security number into an application. So we
have a data exchange with the Social Security Administration to make sure it is a valid
number. We have a number of similar checks with other federal agencies.


We have divided our systems into three categories: mission-critical systems,
mission-important systems and mission-support systems. We are focusing the most attention
on our 14 mission-critical systems, which include three direct loan systems, our
department’s LAN and the department’s central accounting system.


We meet every week to track each one of the 14 mission-critical systems. If there is a
bottleneck or unexpected problem, we do whatever is necessary to get things started again.
Sometimes it is a matter of changing a particular staff’s priorities to make sure it
gets to the work that is needed. In some cases, we have had to amend our contracts to
ensure that contractors would do exactly what we needed to have done, on time, under our
schedules.


We are replacing noncompliant PCs, upgrading software, and making sure the staff is
trained in converting its spreadsheets or documents to newer-generation software. We also
are renovating our network, replacing equipment and components and renovating the e-mail
system. All of that work should be done by the end of this year.


We are also working on systems you might not think of as important. For example, we are
working on identifying which fax machines are compliant and which are not.


More than half our systems are past the renovation phase and into the validation phase.
We are doing independent validation and verification of all mission-critical systems
including those initially assessed as compliant. We expect to complete all the validations
by the Office of Management and Budget deadline.


Most of the implementation will be done by the end of January. And as each week goes
by, I’m more and more confident that we’ll be ready. We give the OMB monthly
reports on how we are progressing, and last quarter we moved up from an F to a D [in
Congress’ estimation].


It’s modest progress, but gratifying. We expect to move up even further in the
next quarterly report, because we will have actually completed implementation of several
systems.

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