Database helps agency supply answers on date code progress

Federal Aviation Administration employees invited by the Transportation
secretary to a listening session in September told the secretary that year 2000 oversight
and reporting burdens had added to their stress in an already stressful job.


Until as recently as July this year, the FAA maintained no centralized database of year
2000 system-readiness data, despite frequent calls for information from oversight
officials in the General Accounting Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the
President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion.


FAA was ill-equipped to respond to Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Sen. Steve Horn
(R-Calif.) and Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.), year 2000 watchdogs in Congress who were
piling on their own questions.


In July, the FAA Year 2000 Program Office installed an information management system,
ending the reporting nightmare that had become a recurrent event, said Mark Noonan,
information manager for the FAA Year 2000 Program Office.


Three months later, FAA officials reported they had met the OMB deadline of Sept. 30
for fixing all mission-critical systems.


“It is simple but elegant,” said Noonan, describing the now-official
repository for FAA’s year 2000 master file.


A 300-MHz Pentium II workstation running Microsoft Windows 95 hosts the 10M Micro-soft
Access database file, Microsoft Internet Information Server and associated Active Server
Web pages.


“Rather than go through the whole routine of buying a server, we just picked a
workstation we already had and started using it,” Noonan said.


The Access file has but one table in it. “It’s quite large, close to
10M,” said Al Leung, an information manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP,
FAA’s primary year 2000 project management contractor.


“We could easily have filled many different tables, but because this is such a
fluid environment, we opted to make things simple,” Leung said.


The closely monitored table has 60 columns for the 60 data elements that the FAA is
tracking. Its 645 rows are for the 645 computer systems on which the program office now
keeps tabs.


The FAA has 430 mission-critical and 215 non-mission-critical systems in its computer
inventory, from mainframes to standalone PCs and everything between.


“To a large extent, the database has really become a project management
database,” Leung said.


Noonan said he and his staff realized early on they had to take on the data entry task
themselves, rather than leave it to the 10 operating units.


“We really needed to get ourselves right in the middle so we could do some
analysis of the data before we called it official FAA data,” Noonan said. They wanted
to make certain all data was entered correctly and that they understood the data.


“Any questions we might have, we can get resolved by a phone call or an e-mail
before entering it into our database,” he said.


The Access database and Microsoft Internet Information Server application are set up
for read-only access from the FAA’s intranet.


Gianluigi Caldiera, FAA technical support director from PricewaterhouseCoopers, said
the FAA had been pretty much on track all along with its year 2000 assessment and repair
project.


“Now, not only is the work done but it’s being reported properly,”
Caldiera said. “Nobody was reporting that progress appropriately, so it looked like
there was no progress,” he said.


Every FAA associate administrator now has read-only access to the live data. “They
don’t have surprises any more,” Caldiera said.


Displaying every organization’s year 2000-readiness also gives FAA units an
incentive to keep their data as current as possible, Noonan said.


The smaller offices within FAA use Microsoft Office templates to report their system
information to the FAA Year 2000 Program Office. The templates and reporting forms are all
contained in the FAA Year 2000 Repair Process and Standards Handbook, which staff refer to
as the Green Book.


At the end of each month, Noonan’s staff rolls its data up to the Office of the
Secretary of Transportation’s Year 2000 Tracking System, which is another Microsoft
Access database.


“The data calls, which used to be fairly major fire drills at the end of the
month, are now pretty much routine operations,” Noonan said.


The validation and implementation reports for each system tested and returned to
production are Microsoft Word documents kept in—“this will sound impressive:
paper folders,” Leung said.


Noonan is one of a couple of dozen FAA employees detailed to the year 2000 program
office for temporary duty, which is nothing out of the ordinary, he said.


“Challenging situations come up quite a bit in the FAA. It’s part of the way
we work,” Noonan said.


The year 2000 effort has accomplished quite a lot, he said, especially by helping the
program office staff develop more effective methods to manage large programs and improve
the way the agency executes special projects.


Of one thing he is certain. The year 2000 information management system, a detailed
inventory of FAA systems and system interface data, will be handed off to another agency
to maintain after the year 2000 crisis winds down, Noonan said.


“It just won’t go up on a shelf somewhere, even if I have to carry it around
in my pocket,” he said. 

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