Don't jump ship now

Here’s a picture that would please cynics and connoisseurs of
cruel irony: In one corner, agency information technology managers are deciding who is
going to be at work on Saturday, Jan. 1, when everyone else will be savoring a
particularly momentous new year; elsewhere, Congress mulls a drastic cut in last-minute
emergency funds for 2000 fix-it projects.

Both are going on right now. Contingency planning and common sense dictate having
computer people work through the long-anticipated weekend. Social Security Administration
officials, for example, have said for more than a year that they’d have staff on hand
to ensure clean transactions with citizens and data-trading partners come the first Monday
of 2000.

Thousands of people in the private sector will no doubt put in extra weekend hours,
too—and they’ll probably get free coffee and sandwiches.

You wouldn’t rank working that weekend as martyrdom. In fact, might be more fun
than being on a New Age cruise hoping for some near-millennial revelation that won’t
materialize. Still, the willingness to put in the hours denotes a nice mixture of
sacrifice and practical determination that ought not go unnoticed, even though it will
probably go unrewarded and unappreciated.

But it shouldn’t go unfunded. Congress has wisely, if belatedly, appropriated
emergency funding for agency 2000 work. Now, $972 million of the remaining funds could be
cut if the Senate’s version of the 1999 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill
prevails [GCN, April 26, Page 62].

Luckily, many senators—notably Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the
Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem—are sympathetic to the pleas of
agencies and of John Koskinen, the administration’s year 2000 czar.

The government has managed to avoid a crisis, but it still has plenty of work to do.
With scant months to go, it would be unwise for Congress to yank emergency funds. With
respect to year 2000, the government systems community has been like a group of squabbling
rowers in heavy rapids. Now that calm waters are within sight, it’s more important
than ever for all sides to pull in the same direction.

Thomas R. Temin

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