Sen. Bennett lauds Clinton's 'call to arms' for 2000

Sen. Robert Bennett praised
President Clinton’s speech, but warns that agencies must hunker down for the next 17
months.





The chairman of the Senate’s year 2000 committee praised President Clinton for
speaking out on the date code issue but warned that the next coming months are critical.


“I think the president’s statement was a stirring call to arms,” said
Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) in a speech this month at the National Press Club in
Washington. “As much as it hurts me, as a Republican, to have to say so, it was a
superb speech. He touched all of the right bases, sounded all of the right notes, and this
is a very, very welcome addition to the Y2K challenge.”


President Clinton early this month made his first speech on the year 2000 problem and
urged agencies to make the issue a priority [GCN, July 20, Page 78].


“We can't do this without a much higher level of awareness to get everybody
involved and get everybody going,” said Bennett, chairman of the Special Committee on
the Year 2000 Technology Problem.


More work needs to be done, he said, and that work has to be focused. “The only
reason I'm not Chicken Little yet is that we have 17 months in which to get from here to
there,” Bennett said.


“We have reached the point where we cannot solve the whole problem. That is very
clear. As a nation, as a government, we cannot get this problem solved. So what we have to
do is start making priority choices,” Bennett said. “We have to do triage and
say, ‘We will allow these systems to die because these [other] system are absolutely
critical for us.’ ”


The involvement of an organization's leadership is what makes the difference in how an
agency handles year 2000 fixes, he said. “The best way to make sure that your
computer problems don’t get solved is for the [chief executive officer] to ignore
them,” he said.


Bennett’s concerns are similar to those of Rep. Steve Horn
(R-Calif.)—chairman of the House Y2K Task Force—the General Accounting Office
and the Office of Management and Budget. The concerns focus on the IRS, Health Care
Finance Administration and Defense Department.


“Do I think the Defense Department will fall apart? No. But I’m glad we're
not engaged in a major war when this hits because the Defense Department will have serious
challenges,” he said.


One of the biggest concerns at DOD is that the systems will work, but will be masking
problems. Whole databases could become suspect, Bennett said.


Systems that run health care programs are also a big concern to federal officials. If
systems at HCFA fail, for instance, hospitals and health care companies might not receive
Medicaid reimbursements. Some companies could go bankrupt if that happens, officials said.


Bennett praised the Social Security Administration for its year 2000 progress.


“I tell people I have a very easy and direct way to solve the Y2K problem; it is
to start in 1994. And the Social Security System did,” he said.  


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