Lawmakers push FAA officials for progress on year 2000 fixes

Senate lawmakers last month questioned why the Federal Aviation Administration paints a
rosier picture of its year 2000 progress than do the General Accounting Office and others.


“Why are GAO and the Air Traffic Controllers Association more skeptical about your
ability to be prepared than you’ve indicated here in your testimony?” asked Sen.
Robert Bennett (R-Utah) during a hearing of his Special Senate Committee on the Year 2000
Technology Problem.


“I think they’re right to keep the pressure on us,” FAA administrator
Jane Garvey said. But, she said, her agency will have its systems 2000-ready.


Garvey in late July reported that FAA had fixed date code in 67 percent of its
mission-critical systems and would have its systems ready by 2000.


The congressional grilling of FAA about its date code work is becoming a monthly event.
In August, FAA officials went to Capitol Hill to defend their systems work to House
members.


At the House hearing, Joel C. Willemssen, director of civil agencies information
systems accounting for GAO’s Information Management Division, said he doubted that
FAA can correct, test and implement many of its mission-critical systems in the 15 months
left.


FAA has acknowledged that it will not meet the Office of Management and Budget’s
deadline for completing all year 2000 work by March.


The agency said it will be done about three months after the deadline.


Systems complexity forces FAA to have a “slightly different deadline” than
OMB, Garvey said. The agency’s validation and implementation deadlines are three
months behind OMB’s schedule.


During the hearing, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) discussed the findings of a
Transportation Department inspector general audit of DOT’s year 2000 status.


In an Aug. 14 memorandum, Transportation IG Ken Mead reported that 63 of the
department’s mission-critical systems, including 52 FAA systems, would not meet
OMB’s March 31 deadline.


“I’m not terribly reassured when I hear [such reports] from the inspector
general and from other organizations that would not have any purpose in raising the
specter unless there are serious problems,” Dodd said.


In its report last month on agencies’ progress, OMB ranked Transportation as a
Tier 1 agency. OMB uses a three-tiered system to rate agency status, with Tier 1 denoting
the administration’s concern that an agency is at risk of systems failures.


According to OMB, Transportation by July had completed fixes for 65 percent of its
mission-critical systems, had tested 10 percent and implemented 3 percent.


“We had the very same concerns when FAA told us that November 1999 was its target
date for having all of its systems renovated,” deputy Transportation secretary
Mortimer Downey told the committee. “We said that was totally and completely
unacceptable. Come back with a new plan.”


FAA’s new strategy sets June 30 as the agency’s implementation deadline, with
a commitment from Garvey to accelerate that to March for as many systems as possible,
Downey said.


“The year 2000 problem is a No. 1 priority,” Downey said.


“The very first question I ask when I meet monthly with each of our administrators
is, ‘Where are you on this?’ ” he said.


Sen. Gordon Smith questioned Garvey about a rumor he saw posted on the Internet that
the agency planned to ground planes on New Year’s Eve 1999.


The Oregon Republican asked Garvey to assure him, the committee and the flying public
that planes will fly safely come 2000.


“That is not true,” Garvey said of the rumor. “I plan to be flying that
night.”


According to the rumor, FAA will ground all domestic flights at 6 p.m. on Dec. 31,
1999, because date code in air traffic control systems will not be fixed in time.


The rumor also said that the aviation administration will not let planes fly again
until 6 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000.


But Garvey said she and Ray Long, FAA’s year 2000 project director, will board a
commercial flight late on New Year’s Eve 1999 and fly coast-to-coast to show their
confidence in the software fixes made to the nation’s air traffic control
systems.   

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