Koskinen: Protect Y2K emergency fund account

Clinton administration officials this month pleaded with lawmakers to protect year 2000
emergency funds from partisan budget crossfire.


John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President’s Council on the Year 2000 Conversion,
said the money is critical as agencies enter the homestretch on year 2000 efforts.


Koskinen asked that the emergency funds appropriated last year not be withdrawn.


The financial red flag arose because of the Senate’s version of the fiscal 1999
Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill, which would reduce the $2.25 billion year 2000
emergency fund for civil agencies by $972 million.


The Senate bill, S 544, would appropriate $2.4 billion to provide disaster assistance
to hurricane victims in Central America. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) proposed an
across-the-board cut in emergency funds, which includes the year 2000 money.


The House version, HR 1141, left emergency funds untouched.


Because the Office of Management and Budget has allocated all but $505 million of the
$3.35 billion year 2000 emergency funds, the reduction would result in a cut in
what’s left in the fund and require a recall of resources that have already been
committed to agencies, Koskinen told the Senate’s Special Committee on the Year 2000
Technology Problem this month.


“A reduction could substantially undercut the federal government’s strategy
to solve the Y2K problem,” he said.


Deidre A. Lee, OMB’s acting deputy director for management, said the overall $3.35
billion in emergency funds allocated by Congress as part of the fiscal 1999 omnibus
spending bill has been important to the government’s year 2000 effort.


The reduction would “force agencies to terminate contracts, where this can be done
without penalty, in order to recapture the remaining $468 million,” she said.


The Senate committee’s chairman agreed with the concerns that Koskinen and Lee
expressed. “I cannot think of anything that would be more disastrous than to have the
federal government fail and have the reason be that the money was not available,”
said Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah). “I cannot think of anything that would be more
shortsighted.”


Bennett, who is also a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he would do
what he could to push for the year 2000 money. After the hearing, he said agencies may see
some juggling as to the fiscal year classification of year 2000 spending.


Koskinen said that if Congress were to recall the money, it would be “inconsistent
with how Congress has acted so far.”


Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), co-chairman of the House’s Year 2000 Task Force, was
more critical of the administration’s position, calling it demagoguery.


The House leadership has told administration officials that lawmakers will approve any
reasonable funding request, Horn said. But he noted that administration officials have
said that agencies would also use funds shifted from other programs for year 2000 efforts.


During a hearing of the House task force this month, Horn asked OMB to provide a list
of funds that have been redirected from other programs.


Lee said OMB on April 2 paid $199 million in emergency funding to 20 agencies. Fourteen
of those agencies received emergency funding in earlier allocations [GCN, Jan. 25, Page 1].


Meanwhile, officials from seven of the 11 agencies that failed to make the
administration’s March 31 readiness deadline told the House and Senate committees
that their agencies would be ready by Jan. 1.


Defense Department deputy chief information officer Marvin Langston said that although
all DOD systems will be ready, the military situation in Kosovo could delay some year 2000
testing.


“If you had to write the lead paragraph, it’s that it is good news, a lot
better than the chairman and I would have thought,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd
(D-Conn.), vice chairman of the Senate committee.


Lawmakers warned, however, that agencies cannot become complacent.


Koskinen said his outstanding concern is state governments’ systems. Some states,
which carry out many federal programs, are significantly behind, he said. The next OMB
quarterly report, due out in June, will provide a list of when each state anticipates
having its systems ready, he said.


Joel C. Willemssen, director of civil agencies information systems accounting for the
General Accounting Office’s Information Management Division, said that despite the
agency progress, four are still in a high-risk category: DOD, the Federal Aviation
Administration, the Health Care Financing Administration and the Health and Human Services
Department. 





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