The State Department makes the grade

The State Department makes the grade

Beating the odds, department successfully compresses 34 years of Y2K work into one, Burbano says

By Frank Tiboni

GCN Staff

Fernando Burbano acknowledges that he too had doubts about whether he could turn around the State Department's year 2000 program.

Worries surfaced even before he agreed last spring to take the job as State's chief information officer. Amazingly, to many observers'even to Burbano, somewhat'the department has finished fixes for its 59 mission-critical systems.

The department's still late, having missed the Office of Management and Budget's March 31 deadline. Even so, State is basking in glory from the about-face. It made the biggest leap in the latest year 2000 report card from Rep. Steve Horn. The department went from an F in February to an A' in June in the report issued last month by the California Republican.

Can-do attitude

Burbano attributes the department's success to the work of deputy CIO Dave Ames, a slew of contractors and the year 2000 staffs in all of State's bureaus.

Burbano said he knew State had major date code problems when he applied for the CIO job. Before he came to State, he had worked for five years in systems posts at the National Library of Medicine.

'I had some doubt whether we could get the job done,' Burbano said. 'But I like challenges.'

State's decision to name a CIO to head the new Information Resources Management Bureau, which merged the former information technology policy and operations offices, laid the foundation for a year 2000 fix-it plan, Burbano said.

The first thing he did was make the project a must-do item on the agenda of State's senior managers and the secretary.

Bonnie Cohen, State's undersecretary for management, was an asset, Burbano said. The department supported his cause and gave him $67 million to carry out code work and testing.

But even more crucial to the department's success, Burbano said, was the selection of Ames as his deputy and as the department's year 2000 point man.

'Dave deserves a lot of credit for our turnaround,' Burbano said.

Burbano and Ames set up strike teams to review and accept plans for fixing mission-critical applications.

A negative General Accounting Office report also motivated State. The August report, Year 2000 Computing Crisis: State Department Needs to Make Fundamental Improvements to its Year 2000 Program, called State's program inadequate and lacking perspective.

GAO 'said we would never make it, with us getting our systems fixed by 2034,' Burbano said.

State officials took the report to heart.

'I think the GAO report sends out an unfair message,' Ames said last year after the report's release, noting State's implementation numbers were low because the department has so many offices overseas that required lengthy implementation schedules [GCN, Oct. 12, 1998, Page 12].

The department has 260 posts around the world including embassies and consulates. Fixing systems in those posts created an enormous logistical headache, Burbano said.

Before Burbano became CIO, State had hired KPMG Peat Marwick of New York to manage its year 2000 efforts. Burbano increased the company's role in the work.

Finally, after more than six months on the job, Burbano said he saw the year 2000 program begin to take shape.

Despite a sense within the department that things were changing, few outside observers felt the same way. State received grades of F in Horn's August 1998, November 1998 and February 1999 report cards. Meanwhile, OMB, in its quarterly readiness reports, repeatedly flagged the department as being at a high risk of systems failure because of date code errors.

But then the tide began to turn. From July to February, the department jumped from 37 percent to 66 percent in implementing its 59 mission-critical systems.

By OMB's March 31 deadline, State had implemented 52 of those systems. On May 14, the department completed work on the last of the remaining seven.

The department expects to finish end-to-end testing by the fall, Burbano said.

The department also is the lead agency for the international team of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion. State will help coordinate international monitoring for council chief John A. Koskinen.

Government year 2000 project leaders celebrated Koskinen's birthday last week at the Old Executive Office Building; Burbano attended, with a gift.

'I couldn't have given him a better birthday present,' Burbano joked. 'We went from an F to an A' and compressed 34 years of Y2K work into one.'


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