Sailing to the millennium

The so-called year 2000 problem—and how computers handle the date change—has placed federal executives in a managerial, financial and technological quandary. Most feds acknowledge the problem is big, but they don't know how big, how long it will take to fix and how much money it will cost.

Attempts at quantification are under way. But some observers note that by the time the government arrives at a thorough accounting of the situation, there will not be enough time left to field a solution.

Some feds have pinned their hopes on automated tools. But a recent report from Mitre Corp. notes that "there are a few semi-automated methods to fix the software, but full automation is not here."

Tools and programmers' time cost money. Agencies strapped by budget uncertainties and downsizing don't have extra money. OMB has made it clear the fixes must come from the money agencies already have; there will be no 2000 contingency funds.

However, no matter how bleak the situation may appear, there is little for agencies to gain from waiting to attack the problem. It will not get smaller or go away. Determining the size of the problem or searching for a software "silver bullet" do not appear to be viable options for federal agencies. Instead, agencies should proceed quickly to form agency-specific SWAT teams that can move quickly using today's technology to head off the 2000 problem.

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