Readying for 2000: One agency's story
- By Richard W. Walker
- Dec 14, 1998
When Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey and Ray Long, head of the
agencys year 2000 program, board a plane Dec. 31, 1999, for their much-publicized
flight across the continent, it will be neither a rash publicity stunt nor a stunning act
of bravado, the two officials have repeatedly said.
As their plane rises to a cruising attitude of 30,000 feet and the clock ticks past
midnight, Greenwich Mean Timewhen all air traffic control computers will roll over
from 1999 to 2000it will simply be business as usual for the FAA, Garvey said.
Said Long: Jane Garvey and I will be boarding a plane on the evening of Dec. 31,
1999, as a reflection of our confidence in both the expertise of FAA employees and the
safety of the nations airspace system.
Because the FAAs primary mission is to ensure safety in the countrys
crowded airways, and any major systems failures are potentially cataclysmic, the
agencys year 2000 efforts have been subjected to scrutiny perhaps greater than that
of any other federal agency.
FAAs year 2000 program has taken some jarring punches.
In January, the General Accounting Office reported to Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.),
chairman of the House subcommittee on government management, information and technology,
that FAA was severely behind schedule in implementing an effective year 2000
GAO warned that implications of FAAs not meeting the year 2000 deadline are
enormous and could affect hundreds of thousands of peoplethrough customer
inconvenience, increased airline costs, grounded or delayed flights, or degraded levels of
In February, Garvey, who had been on the job as FAA administrator for just six months,
swung into action. She first implemented a new approach to the problem, consolidating
FAAs year 2000 efforts into an agencywide program office and appointing Long, who
had been manager of FAAs Air Traffic Services year 2000 program, to head the
Long brought an impressive record on year 2000 to the new program: With his strategy of
centralized management, which had a rigorously defined plan, ATS hadnt missed a
single year 2000 deadline.
Garvey bolstered the programs management by bringing aboard
PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international management consulting company. The move let FAA
better focus the strengths of its own personnel and leverage technical resources, she
In April, FAA issued a year 2000 project plan, outlining goals, delineating program
office roles and responsibilities, detailing a renovation methodology and setting firm
milestones and deadlines. The agency was getting on track.
In August, the picture brightened. The Office of Management and Budget noted the
accelerated rate at which FAA was renovating its air traffic control components,
significantly mitigating risk. By that time, FAA had renovated 59 percent of
those systems, up from 11 percent in May.
But FAA was still significantly behind on OMBs governmentwide deadline of March
31, 1999, for implementing renovated and certified systems, OMB said.
Since then, the agency appears to have turned the corner. In September, Garvey told
Horns subcommittee that FAA was on schedule for most of its 425 mission-critical
systems fixes to be implemented by OMBs March deadline.
Although 59 of FAAs 425 mission-critical systems wont be certified year
2000 ready by March 31, the agency is on track to have all its systems certified and
implemented by June 30, Long said.
Of FAAs 645 computer systems, 259 have been certified as year 2000-ready, Long
FAAs stepped-up efforts have earned plaudits from Horn, one of the
governments toughest critics on its year 2000 efforts.
He has been impressed with Jane Garvey and the way FAA has turned things
around, Horn spokesman Matthew Ebert said. Theyre definitely making some
The agency also is seeking out embedded chips in commercial hardware, Long said. For
example, FAA is using GASP 4.0, PC management software from Attest Systems Inc. of Novato,
Calif., to test and track the year 2000 status of embedded chips in the agencys PCs.
In addition, he said, FAA has performed detailed examinations of the microcode within
embedded microprocessors for some high-interest systems, such as the host system that
supports air traffic control displays at the 20 en route centers. While the current host
system is being replaced, it will back up the new system. FAA will replace the last of the
host systems by November 1999, FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto said.
The agency estimates the total cost of its year 2000 efforts to be $186 million. It has
budgeted $69.5 million and $4 million for fiscal 1999 and 2000, respectively, to cover
testing and certification.
FAA is assembling an agencywide, year 2000 business continuity and contingency plan,
expected to be completed by the end of this month. The plan will augment existing
contingency plans that deal with an array of potential failures in the air traffic control