Inventory flaws cloud IRS' Y2K preparations

Inventory flaws cloud IRS' Y2K preparations

CIO Paul Cosgrave of the IRS says that the agency's contingency plans do not provide replacement systems for existing systems.

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

As the days have trickled away toward 2000, the IRS recently experienced a ripple in its date code readiness efforts.

The quality of the IRS' systems inventory poses a high risk to the IRS year 2000 effort, IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti said in an Oct. 15 letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas).

Rossotti said that reviews of the Atlanta and Philadelphia Service Centers and the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh offices revealed that a large number of records for equipment that had been removed from production had remained in the year 2000 inventory database. To rectify such discrepancies, all service centers are doing new wall-to-wall inventories, independent audits, and independent verifications.

The disclosure prompted the IRS, at the 11th hour, to join four other agencies in sending information technology officials to the House last month to testify about effective contingency planning.

Besides IRS chief information officer Paul Cosgrave, IT officials from the Defense Department, Energy Department, Postal Service and Social Security Administration also laid out plans to mitigate potential problems.

The joint hearing was held by the House Science Subcommittee on Technology and Government Reform and the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology.

'To be fully prepared for Y2K, every organization must ensure that its Day 1 strategies are ready and that practical contingency plans are in place,' said Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), the Science subcommittee's chairwoman.

Originally, the lawmakers had planned to hear testimony from only four agencies, but the Rossotti letter led the two subcommittees to request the IRS' presence at the hearing.

According to the Government Accounting Office, the IRS' business continuity and contingency plans for issuing refunds and receiving paper submissions also are lacking and fail to designate who will be responsible to handle these actions.

In addition to the refund plans, the IRS has developed contingency plans for preserving files and data, handling personnel and procedural matters, and delivering service if systems fail, Cosgrave told lawmakers. He said the IRS had completed testing for all but two of the contingency plans.

'I must emphasize that these plans do not provide replacement computer systems for our existing computer systems,' Cosgrave said. 'If we were unable to automatically issue refunds, our contingency plans do not provide alternate information systems to issue refunds but call for manually issuing refunds as a stopgap measure.'

The IRS has also devised a strategy to guide activities during the critical rollover days just before and after Dec. 31. The strategy specifies validation checklists for the contingency plans, Cosgrave said.

For example, the IRS will halt business operations on its systems at 10 p.m. Dec. 29 and begin them again Jan. 1. The service will revalidate the systems again just before the year's first business day, Jan. 3. The agency will rehearse this rollover strategy on the weekend of Nov. 20.

Defense, which runs about one-third of the government's mission-critical systems, has conducted extensive contingency assessments and is taking prudent Day 1 measures, said Marvin J. Langston, Defense's deputy CIO.

Defense has designated the period Sept. 1 to March 31 as the transition period. Beyond creating contingency plans, the department also is conducting business impact analyses to identify other operational risks that could arise if mission-critical systems fail.

Ready and waiting

Langston said the comprehensive planning efforts combined with end-to-end testing have prepared Defense, which will be ready to execute its national security responsibilities.

Energy CIO John M. Gilligan said all 420 mission-critical systems in his department are year 2000-ready, a task accomplished during the first part of the department's three-phase approach.

Norman E. Lorentz, the Postal Service's chief technology officer, said USPS will freeze all systems and allow no changes through the end of March.

Internal readiness must be coupled with preparation for problems brought on by external influences.'USPS has identified postage payment and the acceptance, processing, transportation and delivery of mail as external threats, he said.

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