Feds turn Y2K corner

The pendulum has begun to swing back, if only slightly, on opinions as to whether the
government’s systems will be ready come 2000.


The latest report from Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), a report from the Senate Special
Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem and General Accounting Office testimony
about the Defense Department’s efforts were relatively optimistic compared with
earlier assessments.


The Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), said the federal
government made a slow start on year 2000 readiness but had recently made notable
progress. Bennett said he does not expect much trouble with the government’s
computers.


“As the race enters the home stretch, agencies must pick up the pace and sense of
urgency,” the Senate report said. “Although much progress has been made this
year, the home stretch of this course is daunting.”


The Horn report echoed the sentiment, saying many agencies have made remarkable
progress in getting mission-critical systems ready.


“Certainly this quarter is an improvement over the previous three when the
government garnered an F and two Ds,” Horn said, referring to his trademark grading
method of evaluating government readiness.


“The overall federal government earned a C+, but a C+ is disappointing,
considering the noteworthy accomplishments of most other federal departments and
agencies,” Horn said. “Six agencies lowered an otherwise stellar grade point
average to mediocrity. And those agencies account for 50 percent of all mission-critical
computer systems in the federal government.”


Horn gave failing grades to the departments of State and Transportation, as well as the
Agency for International Development.


Taking aim at DOT, the report said the department was moving toward Jan. 1 at a
snail’s pace with only 53 percent of its systems year 2000-ready.


“This quarter, the department reported a miserable 2 percent increase in
progress,” Horn said. “At that rate, the ‘T’ in DOT means trouble, not
transportation.”


Horn said much of Transportation’s trouble stems from the Federal Aviation
Administration’s antiquated air traffic control system. The department slid from a D
last quarter to an F this quarter.


Another major area of concern cited by Horn is the State Department, which has
increased its rate of readiness by 25 percent this quarter.


On the other hand, according to Horn’s report, the department can claim that only
61 percent of its systems are ready.


Finally there is AID, recently merged into State, which has received a failing grade
from Horn for each of the four quarters in which it was graded.


“AID remains buried at the bottom of our grade pool. That small agency has only
seven mission-critical systems,” Horn said.


Not one of them is year 2000-compliant, however. “Given its current progress, we
aren’t sure which millennium this agency is targeting,” he said.


But there is good news, Horn said. Five agencies—the departments of Energy,
Justice, and Health and Human Services, the Office of Personnel Management and the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission—have improved their mission-critical readiness rate by 30
percent or more this quarter.


“Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson has fired up his department, resulting in a
35 percent leap in Energy’s year 2000 readiness,” Horn said. “Of the
agency’s 420 mission-critical systems, 357 are reported to be compliant.”


The Horn report also favorably cited Justice, which in November had only 54 percent of
its mission-critical systems ready.


The department now has 86 percent of its systems ready.


Horn’s report gave only middling grades, ranging from C+ to C-, to HHS, DOD and
the Agriculture Department.


HHS has made significant progress in the past year, Horn said. The agency has moved
from failing grades to a C+, but much work still needs to be done, he said.


“We remain deeply concerned over the Health Care Financing Administration’s
problem with external data exchanges,” Horn said.


“Within HHS, there is also another area of concern: the less visible Payment
Management System,” Horn said. “This system processes about $170 billion a year
in federal grants and other payment services, yet this major computer system is not year
2000-compliant.”


John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President’s Council on the Year 2000 Conversion,
has been putting a relatively rosy face on the status of the government’s efforts. He
again predicted there would be problems, but government systems would perform fairly well.


According to Koskinen, many agencies have continued to fail because they are working
against a moving target—even as they make progress, the end of the year moves closer.


Defense, for instance, has made good progress. But reports indicate that much work
still needs to be done. The Horn report gave DOD a C-, up from a D- the previous quarter.


Qualified praise also came in the form of GAO testimony last week at a hearing of
Horn’s House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and
Technology. GAO auditors said DOD has taken the necessary steps to ready its systems.


“While still behind in meeting governmentwide target deadlines, Defense reports
that it is now making much better progress in fixing and testing its systems,” GAO
said. “In its February year 2000 quarterly status report to the Office of Management
and Budget, Defense reported that of its 2,387 mission-critical systems, 1,670 systems, or
70 percent, were compliant.”


Since the earlier report, according to GAO, DOD has made sure that its disparate
organizations are working together toward the common goal of year 2000 preparedness.


“DOD had to work hard to establish a stable baseline and list of systems against
which to measure progress,” deputy Defense secretary John J. Hamre said at the
hearing. “Based on some extremely hard work by people throughout DOD, we have
significantly improved our ability to track Y2K compliance from a single authoritative
database.”


The recent spate of reports and testimony suggest that while the government has come a
long way in preparing its systems, vigilance is still needed to ensure that all systems
will be ready by Jan. 1.


“People tend to not believe government is very good at managing these kinds of
things,” Koskinen said.


The critical and negative reports resonate with them, he said.   

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