Agencies face decision on year 2000: Fix or cut bait

Federal agencies have reached a fork in the road to year 2000 readiness. The choice:
either replace unready PCs and servers or upgrade them.


Some agencies are using broad-brush software tools to fix their PC LANs. Others are
physically checking the BIOS and real-time clock on each machine and applying up-grades
and code patches where necessary.


The Defense Logistics Agency, which maintains 64,000 PCs and servers, found that 80
percent were year 2000-ready, spokesman Lynford Morton said. For the remaining 13,000,
agency officials are evaluating commercial LAN software, freeware and shareware products,
and vendor patches. DLA officials will decide by year’s end which to use, Morton
said.


The Veterans Affairs Department began developing readiness testing guidelines in 1996
and approved six or seven software tools, including one from National Software Testing
Laboratories Inc. of Conshohocken, Pa., said Ernest Castro, manager of VA’s Year 2000
Project Office.


The department now is testing Check 2000 from Greenwich Mean Time-UTA L.C. of
Arlington, Va., and other client-server tools, he said.


Ever since VA officials discovered that some Pentium PCs were unready, “we’ve
been double- and triple-checking,” Castro said. Testing is complete on nearly 90
percent of VA’s 90,000 PCs, he said. Microsoft Systems Management Server looks at the
date and time on each system’s BIOS, and VA officials can “make assumptions
based on that,” he said.


Since early last year, VA contracts such as the Procurement of Computer Hardware and
Software have contained year 2000 clauses, Castro said.


For benefits delivery systems, VA uses a Microsoft Windows 95 patch. The department is
replacing some 286 terminal emulators in hospitals and mail rooms and determining whether
it can continue to use unready systems as terminals.


The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does not use any
broad-brush software tools, said Gregory Curtis, assistant project leader for the Year
2000 Project at FSIS.


Instead, in an operation called PC Sweep, FSIS officials are going from office to
office to check all 5,000 PCs and servers to see whether they need replacements or
upgrades, Curtis said.


“Each visit doesn’t take long. The logistics of being there when users are
there” is the biggest difficulty, he said. When the user and administrator are both
present, the user feels less apprehensive about answering questions, he said.


Meanwhile, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Education
Department and the Military Sealift Command are replacing all their PC systems.


Education and the command are making a transition to leasing contracts. APHIS has
replaced nearly all its PCs and servers during the past 18 months through the Integrated
Systems Acquisition Project contract held by IBM Corp., said Michael Gregoire, APHIS’
chief information officer.


“When we started ISAP [in 1995], we were thinking of it as replacing older legacy
systems” rather than fixing year 2000 readiness problems, Gregoire said. But APHIS
officials have changed IBM’s warranty to cover 2000 readiness, and systems
administrators are working on server routines and specifications to meet IBM standards for
readiness, he said.


APHIS has 135 servers running Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, 33 running Unix and 4,000 PCs,
Gregoire said.


The National Institutes of Health has chosen PinPoint from ClickNet Software Corp. of
San Jose, Calif., to test 20,000 PCs throughout its 24 institutes and centers [GCN, Sept. 7, Page 3].


“Each is going at the process with different schedules,” said Gregory Roa of
the NIH Center for Information Technology.


NIH’s institutes and centers plan to complete their testing and make all systems
ready by March 31, Roa said.


The Housing and Urban Development Department has identified 1,600 PCs and 70 file
servers that are not ready, said Les Graham, deputy director for information technology.
   

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