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1998-05-12 09:18:35


Technology Association President Says Society Is At Risk



Harris Miller, President of the Information Technology Association of America, testified to the House Ways & Means Committee on May 7. He said that technologists are now worried about the safety of society due to y2k.

Bit by bit, byte by byte, the technologists are moving toward my view of y2k. They will not say it yet, but they are beginning to see that the problem cannot be fixed. Mr. Miller put it bluntly: "As a society, we are on the point of conceding failure."

Sometime next year, this will be obvious even to Peter de Jager's discussion forum that time has run out, that there is no way it can be fixed, even if "we start right now." They may face this in only in mid-November, but eventually they will face it.

I think the programmers will face it when the banks shut down. At that point, it will be clear to all that y2k cannot be fixed because the technicians will depart for safer places. Today, most programmers swear that they won't quit. When their salary checks stop, all such talk will cease. The programmers are no more reliable than the banks. When the bank runs close the banks, the programmers will quietly move out of the cities to safer places. They will find jobs in small towns, where cash payments will replace checks. Unlike the rest of us, they will have job offers, at least until the power grid goes down.

In the meantime, programmers publicly echo Mr. Miller's words: "Although the train is barreling down the track, it is still not too late." Of course it's too late. Nobody is paying any attention to the not-quite-doomsayers. And nobody in authority is paying any attention to THE doomsayer: me. The fact is, the money isn't there, and it won't be there in time. All "fix it now" talk is seen by Congress -- if it is even perceived at all -- as special-interest pleading. "Everyone cries wolf," thinks the typical politician, "in order to get more money." And everyone does.

Institutions will have to go back to pen-and-ink solutions. Governments will have to go back to a level of taxation and control that can work on cash payments only -- no banks. If the power grid goes down, this means the U.S. government will have to go back to the Articles of Confederation. The 1787 Constitution -- which assumed the existence of banks -- is way too centralized.

* * * * * * * * *

Statement of Harris N. Miller


Information Technology Association of America

Submitted to the

Committee on Ways and Means

Subcommittee on Oversight

U.S. House of Representatives

A Public Hearing on the Year 2000 Computer Problem

May 7, 1998

This is not just an information technology challenge. This is a fundamental challenge to the ability of organizations throughout the world to continue to function. And it is a challenge which could have tremendous negative consequences for economies and governments throughout the world if it is not met. . . .

You have asked ITAA to provide an assessment of the nation's Year 2000 preparedness. Let me go on record publicly with what those in the know are thinking and saying privately. We are very worried. When ITAA first got involved with the Year 2000 issue back in 1995, we talked in terms of the marketplace as a "deer in the headlights." In those halcyon days, we sought a balanced approach to this situation which would educate organizations to the urgency for fast movement while not allowing the magnitude of the problem to cause sensory shutdown.

How far have we come in the last three years? I must say, not very. On the first part of the challenge -- awareness -- we have done reasonably well. Virtually no one can say that he or she is not aware of the Y2K issue. But on the next stages -- commitment to and actually solving the problem -- we are very frustrated. The focus of conversation among those best versed in this issue is about how we are going to clean up after what appears now to be an inevitable train wreck. As a society, we are on the point of conceding failure. Those unwilling or unable to move off the track are numerous. Federal agencies. State governments. Local and municipal governments. School districts. Private sector industries. Small and mid-sized companies. Critical infrastructure players. And most foreign nations. It's crazy. It's frustrating. It cannot be happening. But it is. Now the "smart" questions have shifted to concentrate on contingency planning, crisis management, and liability. Lawyers are circling, and that is not a good sign.

Failure is not part of the American fiber. Yet after this transition to the new century, society may have to admit that here was a situation it saw coming. Everyone understood its hard deadline. Everyone appreciated its worldwide scope. Everyone realized its massive potential to cause harm. And everyone let it happen. . . .

Congress can be part of the solution by demonstrating the risk management strategies now urged for the marketplace as a whole. Part of risk management involves having the vision to plan for contingencies. Given where the federal government stands today, I feel very confident in predicting that some mission critical government systems will fail -- perhaps as early as January 1, 1999. A recent ITAA survey showed that 44% of organizations have already experience a Y2K failure.

ITAA is not alone in stating this likelihood of failure; the General Accounting Office (GAO) also shares this assessment. If and when these failures happen, reprogramming dollars or protecting federal workers -- the federal kabuki dance -- may at last be considered beside the point. I assume that at that unhappy point in time, government agency heads will be ready to contract with private sector firms specializing in Y2K remediation and testing to expedite the necessary repairs. We suggest that a special $500 million contingency fund be established to cover the period of October 1998 through February 1999. Congress will be adjourned during most of this period-a period during which emergency access to additional funds may prove critical.

I also urge this Subcommittee -- and every other Subcommittee with oversight authority -- to require agencies to identify and respond to their inter-government and extra-government interfaces. Such electronic handshakes must be made with state governments, municipalities, foreign nations, and private sector firms. The smooth functioning of government depends on the ability of these highly integrated systems to operate without date errors. While Mr. Koskinen and the Federal CIO Council are making attempts to build the list of external interfaces with state governments, I suggest that Congress make this cross-cutting project its own, spending whatever funds are necessary to acquire the private sector expertise necessary to perform quickly and effectively the work. . . .

In conclusion, I urge this Subcommittee to do everything in its power to make Y2K preparedness a national concern. There are 602 days left. Although the train is barreling down the track, it is still not too late. Congress has a critical role to play in meeting the challenge, and the five step program I have outlined here today can help. Congress does not want to be placed in the position of wishing it had taken this issue more seriously while there was time left to address the challenges. The American public and the world at large are counting on you. ITAA is ready to assist you in every way possible.


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