New year, old problems

I remember as a child seeing a pad of memos or
business forms that contained a date space partially filled in with a 19, leaving just
enough space to put in the last two digits for the year. I wondered what people would do
if such forms lasted until 2000.

Now that 1999 is nearly here, ideas like that seem less fanciful.

1999, just two weeks away, brings a sense of finality, but when you look at the current
government information technology landscape, it’s amazing—and a little
discouraging—to see how many problems of the 1980s and 1990s are still with us.

Three examples:

On the other hand, agencies make daily progress in IT projects.

For example, the IRS is building a data warehouse that will let it pinpoint anomalies
in the way people file various forms.

At GSA, credit card sales for large and small purchases are growing in popularity.
Ninety percent of agencies, according to officials, have signed up to use the new,
competitively bid cards. Each credit card transaction takes cost and complexity out of
buying. Even FAA is coming out of the woods on 2000.

Date code fixing looms most important now, but it is a passing emergency. Given the
worried attention and outright hyperbole about 2000, a lot of people are going to wake up
early that year feeling sheepish.

And on Jan. 3, 2000, the rest of us will return to work, and the day won’t feel
that much different from any other.

Thomas R. Temin

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