Administration uses a grassroots tack to boost year 2000 awareness

The administration is calling on the national field offices of federal agencies to
mobilize small and mid-sized businesses to prepare for year 2000 computer failures.


A National Y2K Action Week scheduled for later this month is the government’s
first nationwide effort to help communities avoid problems come 2000.


“We’ve decided to give a full-court press to this effort,” said Janet
Abrams, executive director of the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion.
Council members are senior executives from 35 agencies who meet once a month.


The educational events and activities related to year 2000 readiness will take place
Oct. 19 to Oct. 23 in communities throughout the United States, Abrams said.


The grassroots mobilization will rely on the Small Business Administration’s 69
district offices, 935 small business development centers, and 118 women’s, tribal and
other business information centers.


Other key venues for the week of readiness events will be the Commerce
Department’s 400 manufacturing extension partnership offices and 65 minority business
development centers. Also participating are 3,100 Agriculture Department county extension
offices and 1,350 Social Security Administration field offices.


Abrams said the council has been working with the National Association of State
Information Resources Executives to identify every data exchange point between the federal
government and the states. She said the council “is making significant progress on
that front.”


One of the council’s more difficult tasks, Abrams said, will be “to paint a
picture of the most likely state of the world in late 1999.”


The council, chaired by John Koskinen, has 22 working groups assessing the readiness of
different economic sectors ranging from finance and banking to telecommunications,
transportation, energy and health care.


From the assessments, the council will develop scenarios and “plan against them to
make sure we can mitigate any disruptions that do occur,” Abrams said.


The council has begun coordinating the planning effort with the National Security
Council, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Defense Department, she said.


Because of concern that public awareness could turn into public panic, the council has
decided to create, among other things, a toll-free telephone line to answer year 2000
questions.


“We’ll be doing a lot more to respond to what we feel will be a growing
murmur of public worry and concern about whether the products in homes will work and
whether critical infrastructures will be available,” Abrams said.


Abrams spoke at a recent year 2000 public policy conference in Washington, at which
some speakers criticized the administration’s leadership but praised John Koskinen.


“He knows about the problems and can’t be flummoxed,” former
presidential candidate Steve Forbes said.


Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Year 2000,
said his committee has had great difficulty getting industry executives to share
information about their year 2000 readiness.


“Nobody wants to talk to us,” Bennett complained, especially the executives
whose companies are most prepared. “I have a sense we are getting an artificially
rosy picture.”


Congress this month passed the Year 2000 Information Disclosure Act (S 2392) to ensure
that any year 2000 disclosure statements a company makes in good faith cannot be used
against it in a subsequent lawsuit.


But Congress should do more, said Michael Alan Aisenberg, partner in the Washington law
firm Galland, Kharasch, Morse and Garfinkle.


He said Congress should enact additional legislation to prohibit insurance companies
from excluding year 2000 risk from liability coverage.

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