Cautions still run high over systems readiness

Cautions still run high over systems readiness

Rep. Steve Horn, left, Rep. Connie Morella and Rep. Jim Turner hand out year 2000 report cards.

By GCN Staff

The federal government has its year 2000 preparations well in hand, although eight states and Washington, D.C., are not prepared to administer federal programs, the Senate's year 2000 committee reported last week.

Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, released a 288-page report outlining the status of domestic and international year 2000 readiness. The report's release was timed to coincide with the 100-day point before Jan. 1.

The report said that Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, West Virginia and the District of Columbia still had work to do to ready systems that support federal programs. The report also cited concerns about local preparedness for administering 911 and water treatment services.

Although Bennett said federal agencies will likely suffer few failures because of date code problems, he said lawmakers are concerned about the risks associated with organizations with which agencies exchange data. The report also pushed agencies to fine-tune contingency plans in case external failures force the government to resort to those plans.

The report also noted that about half of the 161 countries assessed are at medium to high risk of experiencing date code systems failures in their telecommunications, energy and transportation sectors.

The Senate report followed the recent release of the latest and final quarterly readiness report from the Office of Management and Budget, which also emphasized contingency plans.

OMB said 97 percent of mission-critical systems in the 24 major federal agencies are ready. Although the estimate is up from 93 percent three months ago, Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), in his recent quarterly report cards, said he is unhappy with the progress the government has made since May.

Not up to par

'Progress during this quarter, which ended Aug. 15, is discouraging,' Horn said. 'The flurry of activity we saw among federal agencies earlier this year has slowed to a snail's pace.'

Agencies received two sets of grades from Horn, chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology.

The first set scored agencies' readiness rates for mission-critical systems. The second set scored the readiness levels of 43 programs that OMB has designated as providing high-impact services.

'Although the number of these year 2000-ready programs has nearly tripled during the last three months, 36 programs remain at risk of failure when the clock ticks midnight on Dec. 31,' Horn said.

The administration, however, painted a rosier picture. 'The agencies continue to make progress in their efforts to be ready for the year 2000 date change,' said Deidre A. Lee, OMB's acting deputy director of management.

John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, has promised that any major year 2000 problems will not arise because of a federal systems failure.

OMB noted that 15 of the 24 major agencies have completed their year 2000 work, while the remaining 217 systems still being fixed are spread among nine agencies. Most of the unready systems, however, are in the Defense and Treasury departments, which have 161 and 19 systems to fix, respectively.

Horn gave Defense a D for both its progress on mission-critical systems and for the high-impact programs that it is responsible for'military hospitals and retiree and annuity pay. Horn said that only 89 percent of DOD systems were fixed, while the OMB report said 92 percent of the department's 2,253 mission-critical systems are ready.

The department 'does not see this as a graded exercise,' DOD spokeswoman Susan Hansen said. 'We see it as a pass or fail process, and we have every expectation that we will pass.'

'These grades are clearly nonsensical. The Defense Department has made great progress,' said Jack Gribben, spokesman for the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion. 'We have confidence it will complete its remediation.'

The Agency for International Development also got a D.

Both OMB and Horn said that 86 percent of AID's seven mission-critical systems are ready, up from 29 percent in May.

AID has made great progress, Gribben said. 'I don't see the logic in giving agencies that have made such progress a D,' he said. 'But we have never really agreed with the process.'

OMB reported that most of the high-impact programs would be ready by this month, with the exception of those that involve state and local governments.

Those programs, such as unemployment insurance, low-income home energy assistance, Medicaid and child care, are not scheduled to be tested and ready until November or December.

For the first time, the September OMB report, which is based on data submitted by agencies on Aug. 13, contains details about agency business continuity and contingency plans.

Nearly all agencies had business continuity and contingency plans in place. The Energy Department was the one agency that said it did not have a plan in place for its headquarters, and it said it had plans for only five of its 42 field offices.

Energy chief information officer John Gilligan said the department misunderstood an earlier memo from OMB Director Jack Lew. Energy submitted its strategy rather than its backup plans for all the sites.

DOE has submitted all but three of its plans to OMB now, he said, and the remaining three will be submitted by the end of the month.

As to governmentwide readiness, Horn said he could see little improvement and so stuck with the B- he had given the government in his May report card.

'This performance rate is unacceptable,' Horn said.

'These laggard agencies must complete the necessary computer fixes, fully test their systems and have their business continuity and contingency plans in place,' he said. 'Only time will tell whether this goal can be achieved.'

GCN staff writers Christopher J. Dorobek, Shruti Dat' and Frank Tiboni contributed to this story.

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