Coast to coast, agencies hustle to finish Y2K work

Coast to coast, agencies hustle to finish Y2K work

By Claire E. House and Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

As Yogi Berra said, predictions are tough, especially when they're about the future.

State and local government systems' readiness for year 2000 is no exception.

So GCN/State & Local spoke with scores of government information technology managers across the country and pored over state, federal and nonprofit studies.

We found that most state and local governments will likely avoid major problems stemming from date code errors in their systems.

Sure, there are potential unknown outside effects; yes, there will be glitches; and yes, there are government agencies, mainly in small and less-populated areas, that aren't working on the problem as diligently as others.

But most state and local IT pros are working on it.

They have contingency plans to cover the what-ifs, so major systems problems won't necessarily become major problems for citizens.

'What comes next' has been a faraway thought to IT folks toiling away on year 2000 problems for what seems like forever.

As one state worker said, 'I just can't wait for it to get here and be done with it.'

He will get his wish in less than four months, assuming everything works on Jan. 1. But even after New Year's Day, many governments will still be finishing up work on noncritical systems. And Jan. 1 isn't the only day people are worried about.

This month, systems managers will find out whether 9/9/99 is causing any problems, four nines being programmerese for 'end of file.'

IT shops will keep an eye on Feb. 29, as well, to make sure the leap year transition goes smoothly.

Individual key dates of thousands of systems across government could also require attention. Charlie Hartman, year 2000 coordinator at the Maine Human Services Department, talks about such dates in our look into the trenches on Page 36.

Then there are the other numbers, the readiness numbers.

When you're talking about 50 states and the District of Columbia, 3,066 counties and thousands of municipalities'all doing their own thing'it's nearly impossible to quantify the readiness of each. But here's what we found:

States. Check individual state government readiness in The 50 States section starting on Page 4. GCN talked with representatives from each state government.

We not only report cost and readiness tallies but also provide expanded context and detailed explanations for those numbers.

Although the numbers and narratives combined will give you an idea of how states stack up, we avoided direct comparisons. Given the widely ranging tracking methodologies among the states, straight numbers-to-numbers comparisons are misleading.

On the federal side, the General Services Administration is reporting an 86 percent readiness rate of data interchange points between state and federal governments for state-administered federal programs such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, Child Support Enforcement and Temporary Aid for Needy Families.

Counties. The National Association of Counties conducted a county readiness survey in November and a follow-up in April. It polled 500 counties representing its membership, which is two-thirds of U.S. counties accounting for 90 percent of the country's population.

Although the number of counties with a countywide readiness plan jumped from 50 percent to 76 percent over the five-month period, that still leaves 24 percent without a plan.

Those counties, however, account for just 8 percent of the surveyed area's population.

So the least-populated counties are also seemingly the least-polled and least-ready. Some might argue that they are also likely the least-automated, but that has yet to be proved.

Readiness among respondents jumped from 32 percent to 51 percent between November and April, but the survey offered no projections.

Just 51 percent of respondents are planning systemwide tests, and at least 29 percent do not plan to develop contingency plans. Some respondents did not know their county's plans.

Based on extrapolated survey data, NACO expects counties to spend $1.53 billion on year 2000 work.

Municipalities. Of 400 cities surveyed by the National League of Cities in July, 92 percent say all critical systems will be ready by Jan. 1, and the rest say readiness will range from 80 percent to 99 percent by that time.

Two-thirds of the cities have contingency plans, and half of those that don't are planning to develop them'leaving about 17 percent without backup plans.

NLC represents 1,500 cities and towns as well as 49 municipal leagues that in turn represent 18,000 municipalities across the United States. The survey report indicated no overall financial estimate for municipalities.

In the cutting-it-close category, the federal General Accounting Office reported that 10 of the country's 21 largest cities do not plan to have all government, utility and hospital systems ready until the last three months of the year.

Only two'Dallas and Boston'were ready by July. All, however, had developed or were developing contingency plans.

There's still time for latecomers to do some planning. Federal year 2000 czar John Koskinen has been traveling all over the country discussing preparations, as local government readiness is among his biggest concerns. Most states we spoke with had begun extensive outreach efforts to encourage all public and private entities to address the issue.

When all is said and done, it will be clear who dropped the ball and who didn't. And if all goes as expected, state and local governments will be free to move on to other systems challenges in 2000.

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