Year 2000 program director has confidence in FAA's success




GCN last spoke with Ray Long, director of the Federal Aviation
Administration’s Year 2000 Program Office, in July when Congress and the General
Accounting Office were hammering the agency for getting off to a slow start in its year
2000 work.


Since then, FAA met the Office of Management and Budget’s Sept. 30 renovation
milestone, reporting that 99 percent of its mission-critical systems are year 2000-ready.


The former year 2000 manager of the FAA’s Air Traffic Services and Army air
traffic controller talks about the agency’s latest year 2000 efforts.


GCN: How did FAA make up time
correcting date code after Congress and the General Accounting Office criticized the
agency for its slow start?


LONG: FAA did get a late start in addressing its year 2000 situation. However, the
agency has made tremendous progress and is well on track to have all its systems properly
recognize the rollover to 2000.


Our progress is due to several factors, starting with the formation of a centralized
FAA Year 2000 Program Office on Feb. 4, 1998, and the hiring of PricewaterhouseCoopers to
lend a business perspective regarding management of the office.


The year 2000 issue for FAA was accurately seen as more of a managerial than a
technical problem. Thus, forming a Year 2000 Program Office responsible for all agency
matters and reporting directly to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey gave us the necessary
managerial foundation on which to build.


The operation of the Year 2000 Program Office, I might add, is a new, more efficient
way of doing business for FAA.


There are other factors contributing to our success, including the fact that we did not
have to hire an army of programmers to address the year 2000 situation. FAA has employees
working full-time on our systems. These employees know these systems inside and out, and
are already intimate with identifying problems, finding solutions and testing these
solutions. So for them, the year 2000 issue did not present an unfamiliar set of
circumstances.


GCN: Which FAA systems were not
renovated by OMB’s Sept. 30 renovation deadline?


LONG: As you accurately stated, 99 percent of our systems were renovated by the Sept.
30 deadline including all air traffic control systems. Renovation on two systems, registry
and the Aviation Safety Analysis System or ASAS-Mainframe, was postponed until this month.
Neither system is involved with air traffic, and by postponing their renovation, we saved
taxpayers $2 million.


GCN: What did FAA learn about its
systems through the renovation process?


LONG: I can’t honestly say that we learned a lot of new things, mainly because we
already knew them inside and out. FAA is a highly computerized agency, and it’s our
business to know our systems—and we know them well.


GCN: How many employees does FAA have
detailed to carry out your year 2000 work?


LONG: We don’t have an exact employee count. That number has changed throughout
the process depending on the work that needed to be done.


GCN: What system will replace the old
IBM 3083 mainframes FAA uses to host directional and radar applications, and what makes
the new system superior?


Here’s the rule:


LONG: The host replacement program is being run separately from the year 2000 program.
The 3083 being used at the 20 en route centers is being replaced by the IBM G3 series,
Model No. 9672.


This is a new processor with several advantages, including efficiency, reliability and
durability. It’s also much smaller—the 3083 is approximately the size of two
large cabinets and thus will take up less space in the centers.


The host replacement, which is called the Host and Oceanic Computer System Replacement,
has already been delivered at the New York and Los Angeles centers, with Oakland, Calif.,
next. All three centers are scheduled to go operational in February 1999, and the last of
the 20 will go operational in November 1999.


GCN: As FAA declared the 3083 year
2000-ready in July, will the agency use it as a backup?


LONG: Yes, the 3083 will be used as a backup to the host replacement should the
replacement schedule slip. This is a reflection of the redundancy inherent throughout the
nation’s airspace system. Extensive testing has proven that the host, if required to
be operational in 2000 at any en route air traffic control center, will transition the
date in a routine manner.


GCN: How does FAA stay motivated on
the year 2000 issue despite all the skepticism of the agency’s remediation efforts?


LONG: We are motivated regardless of what our critics say. We are as motivated now,
with a lot of people on our side, as when we first started out and everyone said we
wouldn’t make it. Motivation comes from within, not without.


GCN: What’s the upside of the
year 2000 problem for FAA?


LONG: Well, we’re not finished yet. We still have a long way to go and won’t
relax until we get there.


But there have been several upsides to the year 2000 project, most notably the
tremendous satisfaction from catching up after getting a late start. Also, the
corresponding pride in all the hard work that has been done by all the people involved in
the project.


The year 2000 project has also served as a catalyst for culture change within the
agency.


FAA acknowledges it had difficulty managing large projects in the past. In an effort to
reverse this trend, the agency has made the year 2000 issue a top priority and enlisted
the full support of its executive management.


Since the creation of the Year 2000 Program Office, FAA has not missed a single
deadline and is on schedule to certify its systems year 2000-ready by June 30, 1999.

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