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1997-07-16 00:00:00


NOW READ THIS!!! The Good News Is Really Bad, Says GAO



On July 10, two subcommittees of the House held joint hearings on the Year 2000 Problem. These were the Subcommittee on Technology (Science Committee) and the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology (Government Reform and Oversight Committee).

Joel Willemssen of the Government Accounting Office (GAO) testified as to the present status of the government's y2k repair plans. He reported on the survey released on June 23, 1997, by the Office of Management and Budget. This survey was not audited by any independent agency. It relied 100% on the information provided by the agencies. Willemssen's report is worth reading. Here are some highlights:

The agencies said they would spend a total of $2.75 billion. This is bound to go higher (p. 3).

18 of 24 agencies said in May that they would meet the June deadline for completing the assessment phase. Those that did not promise: Treasury, Defense, Transporation, Veterans Affairs, Agency for International Development, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission .

Assessment accounts for about 1% of the total cost of a y2k repair (see the California White Paper: "Government".)

Health & Human Services did not actually meet the deadline (p. 4). The Health Care Financing Administration of Medicare has done not completed its assessment activities.

"As we have pointed out in earlier testimony, if systems that millions of Americans have come to rely on for regular benefits malfunction, the ensuing delays could be disatrous." This is not bureaucratic language.

The agencies' schedules "are leaving no margin of error for unanticipated schedule delays; 15 of 24 expect to complete implementation in either November or December of 1999. This leaves a matter of weeks, at most, if something should require more work before January 1, 2000."

In short, he is saying, they expect that there will be no major failures in code revisions for systems totalling millions of lines of code -- in the case of the Department of Defense, over 350 million lines, in dozens of arcane languages.

Furthermore, "the agency reports may not be accurate. . ." (p. 8).

Then comes the capper, the virtual guarantee of an international collapse of all systems:

"Data exchange. Many agencies exchange data with hundreds if not thousands of external entities. Unless both parties to any exchange are year 2000 compliant, information systems and databases may easily be contaminated by coding embedded in noncompliant systems. To combat this, agencies must inventory and assess all internal and external data exchanges, make approrriate notifications and, if necessary, develop appropriate bridges or filters to maintain the integrity of replaced or converted systems and the data within them" (pp. 5-6).

At the same hearings, Joe M. Thompson of the General Services Administration admitted the following:

"Since GSA is the business arm of government, success in the Year 2000 means that our industry partners, and other state, local, Federal and international agencies must also be compliant and ready to provide seamless communication among all parties. Many of our partners have not moved rapidly or aggressively enough to assure that they, too, will be ready on time" ("Statement of Joe. M. Thompson," p. 5).

Multiply this by about 200,000 banks worldwide. THERE IS NO ESCAPE. THESE SYSTEMS WILL CRASH. Face up to it now, while there is still time for you to take action. That's my conclusion, anyway. Now, back to Mr. Willemssen's testimony:

"Systems prioritization. It is becoming increasingly clear that agencies will likely be unable to correct all noncompliant systems before 2000. . . . contingency plans must be prepared so that core business functions will continue to be performed even if systems have not been made compliant" (p. 6).

The he adds a happy-face conclusion: "It CAN be done, and the public is depending on us to do it." The first half of his sentence is obviously a convenient bureaucratic statement of faith: as the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen" (Heb. 11:1). The second half is terrifyingly true: the people are depending on the government to fix it. Such people are going to have their plans shattered in 2000 and beyond.


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