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1998-05-11 15:14:21


To Prevent Public Panic, Y2K Czar Maintains a Happy Face



John Koskinen is the head of President Clinton's tiny y2k task force. He is a lawyer. His predecessor, what's her name, was a lawyer. We face the biggest technological threat in man's history, and the most powerful man on earth appoints lawyers to solve it.

That's why we know y2k can't be fixed. It can only be litigated.

Mr. Koskinen says he will be on a commercial airliner on December 31, 1999. He says this is not cheap bravado on his part. That is true. Bravado implies a risk that someone really is not willing to take. Koskinen is taking no chances at all. The FAA will not make the deadline. No airlines will be flying on December 31. His promise to be on a commercial flight is bluff; he knows there will be none in the sky. He can then say, "Well, I was ready to get on board, but I just wasn't able to." Right, right, sure, sure.

He says that he will fly on December 31 because he wants to assure the public that this problem can be fixed. In short, it's never too late. To fake it.

Here is the key phrase: "I do not want people gratuitously deciding that they're going to take action that they otherwise wouldn't, because if millions of people start to do that we'll have economic dislocation." In short, lie through your teeth in order to gain time. It's the lawyers' way.

He recites the familiar myth: big outfits are going to make it, but small ones won't. The reverse is true. Only the small firms that can switch back to paper and ink can possibly make it.

The only big outfits that supposedly will make it are those in a tiny handful of nations. He admits that most countries have yet to begin their repairs. This is a disguised admission of defeat. Their noncompliant computers will re-corrupt any compliant ones (and there will be very few). The world is an integrated economy. What he is implying is that the world economy is domed.

As for embedded chips, he remains prudently silent, "at this stage."

This is from BUSINESS WEEKLY REVIEW (May 11) an Australian publication.

* * * * * * *

As New Year revellers celebrate on the evening of December 31, 1999, John Koskinen will leave his party in New York and board a commercial flight to Washington DC. At the stroke of midnight, he will be aloft and on his way to a command post at the National Security Council's security communication network. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, the troubleshooter's job is to ensure minimal disruption from the year-2000 computer problem. From the NSC, he will monitor the nation as if it were under nuclear or biological attack, or being devastated by some act of nature.

Koskinen says he has no problem about flying at the moment the calendar changes. Some people are worried that, on January 1, 2000, computer programs and embedded computer chips that have not been fixed will endanger air traffic-control systems, cut power supplies and telecommunications and bring elevators, ATMs, traffic lights and petrol pumps to a halt. Koskinen says his role is to urge action yet avoid panic; and he believes that by announcing his intention to physically fly into 2000 demonstrates his confidence.

"I say that, not as an act of bravado, but because I think it is important for people to feel confident that we will solve the problems ... At this stage, I want everyone to feel a little nervous and very concerned and active. At that stage, I don't want to mislead the public that it's not safe to do something. At that stage, I do not want people gratuitously deciding that they're going to take action that they otherwise wouldn't, because if millions of people start to do that we'll have economic dislocation.

There was a hard edge of worry underlying Koskinen's words as he spoke in New York shortly before chairing the inaugural meeting of Clinton's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. Widely regarded as America's best crisis manager, he believes the Federal Government and big businesses are well on the way to reducing year-2000 problems - but he is not so sure about the nation's 2.5 million small businesses; nor does he think that a lot of the world will easily escape the problems caused by antiquated programming that cannot read a two-digit "00" date code as anything but 1900.

"You can count on one hand the number of countries around the world that are anywhere near where the US is," says Koskinen. He says several countries "have paid very little attention to the problem" and "many companies and countries have yet to begin". His political sense stops him naming the laggard countries, or even agreeing that Asian countries are not taking the whole year-2000 thing very seriously. "It's easier to say which countries are doing well," he says, naming just Britain, Canada and Australia.

"While I don't subscribe to the doom-and-gloom view that it is even too late to begin, it is clear that time is running out," he says. This is a very unique problem and challenge. With everything else we do, there is an assumption that if you get up to the end of the deadline you can negotiate an extension. There obviously is no way to extend this date."


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