GAO: Beware data exchanges

Bad date code in government systems seems less a threat come 2000 than flawed data that
agencies might receive from other government and private-sector systems, the General
Accounting Office reported last week.

In its report, Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Actions Needed on Electronic Data Exchanges,
GAO warned that some mission-critical systems may not be ready if federal agencies
don’t agree on date formats with all their data exchange partners.

“The full extent of the managerial and operational challenges posed by the heavy
reliance on others for data needed to sustain government activity is not yet known,”
GAO said. “For the vast majority of data exchanges, including those with
international entities, federal agencies have not reached agreement with their exchange
partners and, therefore, do not know if the partners will be able to effectively exchange
data in the year 2000.”

As of April, about half of all federal agencies still had to finish assessing date code
problems that might arise because of data exchanges, GAO found. A review of state
government organizations turned up only two of 39 that had finished assessing their data
exchange interfaces, the report said.

The Office of Management and Budget, in a response to GAO, said agencies have made
progress since April.

“The draft report states that agencies have demonstrated a lack of progress. Yet
your survey occurred well before the target dates set by OMB,” said G. Edward DeSeve,
OMB’s acting deputy director for management.

The data exchange problem is complicated because agencies must coordinate with one
another, with state agencies and with public-sector organizations. After agencies identify
all their outside interfaces, they must negotiate agreements with those outside parties on
uniform date reporting standards and plans to repair problem code, GAO said.

Agencies must be methodical in this work, GAO said.

DeSeve, in a letter dated May 27, said 22 of the 24 largest agencies have completed
their assessments and most have made contact with their exchange partners.

GAO recommended that agencies do five things:

John Koskinen, chairman of the President’s Council on the Year 2000 Conversion,
has been directing agencies to meet with state officials to discuss data exchange points.

Federal and state chief information officers discussed data exchange at a summit in
Pittsburgh in October 1997. At that meeting, the officials created the Memorandum of
Agreement Between Federal and State Governments on Year 2000 Issues. That agreement, which
outlines a standard for date code in exchange points, can be found on the Transportation
Department’s Web site at


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