She'll verify: 'We aren't missing anything

Name: Mary Powers-King

Agency: Federal Aviation Administration

Title: Deputy director, Year 2000 Program

Length of service: 20 years

Age: 47

Education: Bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, Thomas Edison
State College, Trenton, N.J.; numerous computer science and management courses at
technical and academic institutions

Responsibilities: Primary backup to the Year 2000 program director.
Provide briefings on program status to internal FAA organizations and management and to
airlines, industry and government. Help manage program office staff and activities. In
conjunction with the director, provide interpretation and clarification of published year
2000 standards and policies within the agency. Work with oversight entities to provide
information and ensure agency progress.

Most exciting aspect of my job: Working with organizations, both
within FAA and outside, that I’ve never worked with before, learning in detail what
every FAA organization does, what data they use, how they process data and who they
interface with. In addition, we’re working with the airlines, airports and avionics
manufacturers and the associations that represent them on information sharing.

We’re working with international partners that we exchange data with and planning
some testing with foreign countries. We’re also actively working with our unions on
agency-level contingency plans.

Greatest challenges for a federal agency in solving year 2000 problems:
Ensuring everything gets covered in terms of assessment for potential impact and verifying
that we aren’t missing anything. This has been an ongoing challenge to us for the
past two years.

Along the way, we’ve added things we didn’t think of initially, such as power
and utilities that affect elevators in FAA facilities. We constantly coordinate and
interface with FAA organizations, other government agencies, industries and foreign
governments to ensure that we’re reviewing and assessing everything that must be
checked out.

We also have a challenge in defining the role, scope and boundary of FAA
responsibilities and how we provide leadership, coordination and facilitation to our
partners. The aviation community is large, and many of us are working together to ensure
we’re all successful. This requires extensive coordination and synchronization of our
ongoing work.

What I see as the main year 2000 problem facing the FAA: The extensive
coordination and management in implementing the changes and fixes we’ve identified
and renovated for year 2000.

We’re in the validation phase where we’re testing our changes and ensuring
that our interfaces still work seamlessly. Unit testing of modified applications is behind
us and is much less of a challenge than ensuring that all our integration work is
completed on time and with no major impacts.

We’ve extended our testing past what the General Accounting Office has recommended
to ensure that mission-critical and safety-related air traffic control systems are
exhaustively tested.

We then must roll out multiple, fully tested year 2000 changes to many facilities
across the country by June to maintain our schedule. We’re currently ensuring that
our configuration management strategies are sound and determining if any changes need to
be made.

What hurdle has been most difficult to overcome: Getting used to
substantial public criticism regardless of how hard we work and how much progress we make.
Keeping morale up for our team and for the agency has been just one more challenge. We
hope this is beginning to change as we have now completed renovation of nearly all our
systems in conjunction with the Office of Management and Budget target of Sept. 30, 1998.

The concerted dedication, commitment and collaboration of FAA employees, along with
very strong senior management leadership and support, has shown us what we can achieve
when we all work together toward a common goal.

The most exciting new technologies in federal information technology and
computing: We’ve had vendors come and talk with us about products
they’ve developed to help solve the year 2000 problem. Many are very creative, some
are temporary solutions proposed for contingency planning, and some are language- and
platform-independent. Some don’t even touch the code. Most products we’ve seen
are proprietary. We have some proposals in-house so I can’t talk about the specifics.

FAA also has large air traffic control development projects under way. Because our
development contractors push the envelope on security equipment, voice and data
communications and advanced technologies, we’re keeping in step with them to ensure
that the products they develop, procure or subcontract are year 2000-ready.

What best prepared me for this job: Fifteen years as a computer
programmer, systems analyst and program manager working with a variety of programming
languages and computing environments.

The applications we developed and maintained years ago in languages such as Basic, PL/I
and Cobol are the nemesis of year 2000-readiness. Our goal then was to create efficient
code—I never saw a program that used a four-digit year.

We certainly were not aware of the challenge we were creating for ourselves and our
counterparts today. It’s also difficult to believe that so much code that was
developed 10, 15 or 20 years ago is still in use today.

The greatest influences of my career: I took a break in service from
FAA in the 1980s and worked for a couple of years for local government and five years as a
manager at Boeing. I returned to FAA in 1990, having experienced firsthand how things were
different in industry. I’ve always loved the FAA, and I’m glad I made the choice
to return.

Other interests: Reading, hiking and traveling.  

—Richard W. Walker

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