Feds now find themselves defending success on Y2K

Feds now find themselves defending success on Y2K

Marines' McHale says DOD now must defend Y2K expenses.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

It became evident just hours after New Year's Eve that nearly all critical systems around the world would operate smoothly through the date change. And nearly as quickly, a new sort of Jan. 1 hangover set in as some citizens began suggesting that the year 2000 threat had been more hype than reality.

Those who have been working on the problem for years'in both government and the private sector'were quick to defend their efforts and to point out the peripheral benefits of successful remediation. (For more on the rollover, see Page 45.)

'It is said that no good deed goes unpunished,' said Bruce W. McConnell, director of the International Year 2000 Cooperation Center, a United Nations-funded operation. 'I guess this is one of those cases.'

Critics have argued that much of the money spent in the United States, including the $8.6 billion spent by federal agencies, was wasted. As evidence they are pointing to countries purported to be less prepared than the United States but whose systems nevertheless survived the rollover. Some are suggesting that the lack of problems could paint chief information officers as the boy who cried wolf.

Typical was cable and online news outlet MSNBC. It featured an hour-long program last week titled 'Yawn2K,' which asked whether the country was duped. Online discussion groups were also abuzz with similar speculation.

Sure about it

'Well, has this all been hype?' John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, asked rhetorically. He answered emphatically: 'No.'

Year 2000 was the world's biggest management challenge in 50 years, he said. 'To the extent that we see the results of a phenomenal amount of effort by individuals and the expenditure of a substantial amount of resources resulting in a positive result, I think that we should not underestimate the nature of the problem that was originally there.'

Defense Department officials last week also defended their $3.6 billion readiness effort.

Year 2000 project officers on Jan. 3 began preparing reports for the Office of the Secretary of Defense about what could have gone wrong.

'The Congress, media and public are saying, 'Explain to me why you spent so much money,'' particularly since there were no significant rollover problems even in nations that spent little, said Col. Kevin McHale, the Marine Corps' year 2000 project office director.

Georgia CIO Mike Hale also credited preparation for the dull weekend. 'If certain bugs hadn't been fixed, our systems would not have worked,' he said. Georgia replaced two-thirds of its systems for the rollover.

Hale noted that most of the money spent on year 2000 fixes was spent by corporations. 'When people spend money for a business decision, it's certainly not an emotional, knee-jerk reaction,' he said.

Energy Department Secretary Bill Richardson said the $245 million the department spent on year 2000 fixes was well worth it. 'If we hadn't prepared there would have been a heavy price' in disruptions of service, Richardson said. 'The government had a near-perfect record.'

Koskinen said there were fewer problems in developing countries because they had relatively simple systems that were easy to test and fix.

Even Ed Yardeni, a Deutsche Bank Securities economist who had been one of the most vocal pessimists about the year 2000 problem, praised the information technology community, specifically Koskinen.

'Looking back, I certainly don't regret my efforts to raise awareness,' Yardeni said in a statement posted on his Web page, at yardeni.com.

While conceding that he was wrong in predicting that date code glitches would result in an economic downturn, Yardeni stated: 'Y2K was a big problem. Hopefully in the next few weeks we will find that it has been mostly fixed.'

Silver lining

Veterans of the remedial effort noted other benefits from year 2000 work, including having complete inventories of systems, overdue replacement of outdated systems and the clearing out of unproductive or unnecessary systems.

'I think we know ourselves, technologically, better than we ever have before,' Navy Rear Adm. Robert F. Willard said.

McConnell said: 'The world's information systems have had a complete work-over, and they are now passing the physical. We're in good shape for the new century.'

GCN staff members Claire House, Bill Murray, Thomas R. Temin and Trudy Walsh contributed to this report.

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