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1997-11-04 16:10:02


Air Force Document Reveals Y2K Problem Areas



This document is very peculiar. It is posted on an Air Force site, but it is not signed. No organization or department takes credit for it. It is undated. It has a link to the Home Page of the Air Force's y2k site, but there is no link that I can find that goes from the Air Force's Home Page to this document. I backtracked by erasing the last entry on the document's address. Here is what I got:

Air Force Communications Agency Office of Public Affairs; 203 W. Losey St., Room 1020; Scott Air Force Base, IL 62225-5233

For a government document, its language is pretty scary. It is not apocalyptic, but it raises lots of issues that indicate that y2k is a problem that will not be solved on schedule.

This document raises some important issues, such as: (1) the need for parallel testing of corrected systems; (2) the threat of noncompliant data imported from other computers; (3) noncompliant embedded chips in weapons systems; (4) the likelihood that only 25% of state and local governments will meet the deadline.

* * * * * * *

The shortage of time to complete year-2000 computer changes may force agencies to prioritize their systems. Agencies may also need to shift resources from other projects to work on year-2000 efforts. State and local governments, as well as foreign organizations, will also have significant year-2000 conversion problems. . . .

Research conducted by several independent consulting firms concludes that the problem is formidable. The Gartner Group, an information technology research firm, estimates that it may cost $30 billion to correct the problem in government computers systems of the federal agencies and up to $600 billion worldwide. This is based on an estimated average cost of $1.10 per line of software code. Other independent research firms, including IDC Government (an information technology consulting firm) and the Mitre Corporation (a Federally Funded Research and Development Center), do not dispute this estimate.

While correcting the year field is technically simple, the process of analyzing, correcting, testing, and integrating software and hardware among all computer systems that must interact is a very complex management task. In most cases, it is too expensive to re-write software code for the entire system. The overall task is made more difficult by the plethora of computer languages in existence today, the lack of source code and documentation for older software, and the shortage of programmers with skills in older languages. As a further complication, the year 2000 is a special leap year that only occurs every 400 years to keep the calendar accurate. Many software products will not account for the extra day needed in the year 2000. . . .

Software analysis tools can be useful to assess the extent of the problem for specific cases. Software tools are commercially available to assist with the conversion of year fields to four digits. Various tools can identify locations in software code where date references occur, make the necessary changes, and test the upgraded system. Testing is particularly laborious because the modified software must be tested in conjunction with all possible combinations of other software programs it interacts with to ensure functioning has not changed. There may not be enough time, however, for in-house personnel at many agencies to purchase a software analysis tool, learn how to use it, and perform the software conversion and testing. According to one estimate, these tools can only reduce the human work-time by 20-30% at most. Furthermore, sharing analysis tools in most circumstances is prohibited under copyright laws. . . .

Several other technical issues must be considered. Many experts say that software should be analyzed, and modified if necessary, before the start of 1999, to leave ample time to test and debug the system while running in parallel with the existing system. This would leave only two and a half years to complete the conversion process. . . .

Another major concern is that even if a company or government agency corrects the problem within its own system, it may need to interact with other computer systems. Other systems that are not year-2000 compliant could send file information into the corrected databases, corrupting those databases. Flawed data can easily enter from the private sector into government agencies' database, and from foreign countries into US computer system. . . .

DOD [Department of Defense] has several unique concerns apart from other Federal agencies, For example hardware changes must be made in some weapon systems whose clocks store dates using two-digit codes. Computer chips that store dates in "firmware'' may have to be replaced on missiles and other weapon components. Some of those chips,, however, may no longer be in production. In addition, DOD has many unusual computer languages for which software analysis tools are not commercially available. Given the limited time and resources, DOD is focusing on correcting its mission critical systems, and may use temporary fixes for other systems. . . .

Even a system that is year-2000 compliant can be contaminated by incorrect data entering from eternal interactions. Government agencies need to ensure that data entering their computer databases from other sources (such as state, county, municipal government, and the private sectors is accurate. To forestall contamination of federal databases, some suggest that OMB set a policy for how agencies monitor incoming data to insure its integrity. Many Federal agencies, however, would prefer to set their own rules for accepting eternal data. . . .

Efforts needed to correct the problem in state and local government operations also are likely to be significant. The Gartner Group predicts that fewer than 25% of state and local government computer systems will be ready for the year 2000.


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