John Koskinen: Y2K revisited

For Federal Computer Week's 25th anniversary issue, we highlight some of the people, policies and technologies that have influenced federal IT. Although it is not possible to include all the dynamic and dedicated people who have been or still are a part of this marketplace, we start with some who have left their mark.

Twelve years later, the Year 2000 date change panic that riveted the public and government leaders seems like something out of a disaster movie. But in the late 1990s, there were real fears that the computer systems that supported our modern infrastructure — from banking and air traffic control to defense systems — would fail when their digital clocks flipped over on January 1, 2000.

In the United States, that race against time was led by John Koskinen, an Office of Management and Budget executive selected to lead President Bill Clinton’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

It was more than a technical remediation effort, though that alone was daunting. For example, the Defense Department had more than 2,300 systems deemed mission critical that needed to be fixed, tested and reinstalled. Koskinen’s group also had to overcome hurdles related to legislation, liability laws and competing priorities — and had less than two years to do it in.

“On New Year’s Eve, we had 100 information desks set up” in the coordination center, Koskinen said. “Madeleine Albright, then secretary of State, came by and said, ‘Geez, you could run the world from here.’ I said, ‘Well, we might have to.’”

Although some people debate how pervasive the problems might have been if the remediation efforts hadn’t happened, it is undeniable that the transition was handled smoothly despite the many obstacles. Colleagues credit Koskinen’s leadership, vision and knack for bringing people together.

“This was the first major problem that federal CIOs had to work on together, and that experience continues to serve today as CIOs deal with cybersecurity, information sharing or moving to the cloud,” said Bruce McConnell, senior cybersecurity counselor at the Homeland Security Department and former Y2K council member. “That sense of collaboration that John achieved has helped the community continue to work together.”

“Through this process, we helped give focus to the function of managing IT and thinking about it strategically,” said Janet Abrams, executive director of the Y2K council. “It was a really great model, and there’s a lasting impact.”

These days, threats to global systems are greater than they were in the 1990s, Koskinen said, but that shouldn’t keep us from constantly pushing those boundaries.

“IT continues to give the capacity to do thing faster, more efficiently and more effectively,” he said. “It’s important for IT leaders to continue to focus on making information as easily available to the public as possible. We want to be at the cutting edge… It’s tough, but if I were a CIO, that’s what I’d be focused on.”

NEXT: Meet the reformer on the Hill

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group