Will year 2000 fixes face a 'nines' test Thursday?

Will year 2000 fixes face a 'nines' test Thursday?

Agencies have tested systems for the nines glitch, year 2000 czar John A. Koskinen says.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Government officials will be watching systems closely on Thursday for the so-called nines problem that some programmers have suggested will give year 2000 fixes their first true test.

The potential glitch arises from an old, nonstandard programming convention that used four nines in a row'9999'to tell computers to stop processing data or to perform a special task.

In the unlikely event that systems misread Sept. 9, 1999, as 9/9/99, the system could confuse the nines with what programmers call an end-of-file marker.

'It is a date that everyone will be watching,' said Kathleen Adams, who leaves her post later this month as the Social Security Administration's assistant deputy commissioner for systems.

'The general belief is that the date may be a problem because a number of programmers in the past have used all 9s in data fields to indicate an end of a file' or some other operation, said Adams, who also is co-chairwoman of the Chief Information Officer Council's Year 2000 Committee.

No worries

The nines issue is not expected to be a significant problem because programmers' use of 9999 was not a standard convention, said John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, during a recent CNN interview.

'The reason we don't expect it to be much of a problem is, first, it wasn't a standard programming practice. Second, everybody knows about it, so they have been testing for it. And third, the experts tell me it is very easy to find a series of nines in computer code, as opposed to data processing,' he said.

Adams said SSA has been conducting 9/9/99 tests in conjunction with its year 2000 testing. 'We are not expecting any issues with that date,' she said.

Adams suggested that the nines problem is a bit of a red herring. 'Since 9/9/99 isn't really all 9s, it is 09/09/99, I personally wonder if it will materialize as a real issue,' she said.

During his CNN appearance, Koskinen gave government agencies kudos for their year 2000 work.

'One thing I am confident about, and we're not guaranteeing a lot, is that if there are major difficulties with Y2K, it won't come from the failure of the federal systems,' Koskinen said.

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