Squabbles over date code funding threaten fixes, year 2000 czar says

A budget battle
could doom code work, says John A. Koskinen, chairman of the president’s year 2000
conversion council.

The budget battle between the Clinton administration and Congress could
doom the government’s year 2000 efforts, the administration’s year 2000 czar
said this month.

“If this money gets tied up in the endgame, that’s a real problem,” said
John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President’s Council on the Year 2000 Conversion.

Most of the date code repair funds should have been allocated in fiscal 1999 budgets,
Koskinen said, but more money will be needed.

“We’re probably not going to spend [emergency money]. If we were going to
spend it, we should have budgeted for it,” Koskinen said at a breakfast forum hosted
by Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va.

House conservatives stripped emergency year 2000 funds from several House
appropriations bills last month, arguing that the money should be shifted from other
programs to comply with the balanced budget amendment (see story, Page 12).

“If there is ever a time when we ought not worry about [how the work is funded],
it’s now,” Koskinen told the audience of more than 100 people.

“I don’t think it’s a huge amount of money, but it’s
essential,” he said. “Not only do we need the money, we need the money in a
timely fashion.”

Koskinen also cautioned those who criticize year 2000 oversight. Agencies need to
reward the bearers of bad news, including inspectors general and the General Accounting
Office, Koskinen said.

The Coast Guard recently determined that its financial management software was not year
2000-ready, even though it had been classified as fixed. Employees who bring that kind of
information to the attention of officials should be rewarded, not punished, he said.

Koskinen gave forms to attendees and suggested they anonymously report year 2000
problems they have seen in their agencies. “This is not a situation where yelling at
people is going to encourage dialogue,” he said.

Koskinen said he would fight for the passage of the so-called Good Samaritan Law, which
protects businesses from lawsuits stemming from the sharing of proprietary year 2000 data.

Koskinen also urged Congress not to miss the “once-in-a-thousand-year
opportunity” to pass the law, warning that the number of legislative days before
Congress adjourns is dwindling.

Agency executives need to set priorities, not only among mission-critical systems, but
also for year 2000 and non-year 2000 work, Koskinen said.

He pointed to the IRS, which faces daunting year 2000 work. Not only is the IRS working
to fix its date code, it is modernizing its systems and revamping its business processes
to comply with the IRS reform law passed last month.

The reform bill, however, gave the IRS a fighting chance to complete its year 2000 work
by granting it a grace period to implement the reforms, Koskinen said.

The Health Care Financing Administration also postponed implementing some provisions of
the balanced budget amendment to focus on year 2000 work, he said [GCN, Aug. 24, Page 68].

“If we’re going to get this problem solved, it’s no longer business as
usual,” Koskinen said.

Koskinen defended the Federal Aviation Administration’s progress, which GAO
officials questioned at a House hearing earlier this month [GCN, Aug. 10, Page 79]. Neither FAA nor GAO were completely precise, he said.

“FAA has solved a very intractable problem that would have made it impossible to
succeed,” he said. “When I first started, I wasn’t sure the first steps
would even get solved.”

Responsibility for fixing the systems rests with agencies’ senior management,
Koskinen said, not just with chief information officers.

Agencies also must give the public accurate information on the year 2000 problem,
Koskinen said, so citizens don’t lose confidence in their government.

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