DOD nixes noncompliant-gear buys

The Defense Department plans to cancel the purchase of new computer equipment and software that is not Year 2000-compliant, according to a recent directive.

Saying the Year 2000 problem "requires immediate attention," Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, wrote in a May 8 memo to top DOD management that they "issue stop-work orders on all contracts for products that fail to meet the Year 2000 requirements." (See story, page 14.)

How much of DOD's computer hardware and software will malfunction or calculate errors when the date changes to Jan. 1, 2000, is not known. Paige directed DOD contracting offices to contact all prime contractors in charge of PC, workstation and software contracts to determine whether the equipment and software is Year 2000-compliant.

The services have already started to push their PC vendors to modify PC hardware. Dave Borland, the Army's deputy director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers, said all new products available for order from major Army contracts, such as PC-1 and Portable-1, now comply with the terms of Paige's memo.

Borland, speaking at last week's Army Small Computer Program conference in Orlando, Fla., added that it will take more time and work to bring major software development systems, such as the Reserve Component Automation System and Sustaining Base Information Services, into compliance.

Paige's order will get the attention of vendors who need to verify that their software and equipment is indeed Year 2000-compliant, said Peter de Jager, president of de Jager and Co., a computer management consulting firm in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

"This [action] is excellent because vendors have a responsibility to address this problem," de Jager said. "And they have to do it in writing; something much more reliable is called for than just reassuring the public that their products will work [in the next century]."

A Relatively Simple Problem

Tony Byrd, national account manager for Sysorex Information Systems, which supplies PCs to the Army on the PC-1 contract, said resolving the Year 2000 problem in PC hardware is relatively simple. "All you have to do is change the BIOS to handle it."

In his memo, Paige also directed DOD contracting offices to:

* Require contractors to develop a plan to make existing products that have been sold to DOD Year 2000-compliant.

* Identify software and computer operations that will be affected by BIOS chips that are not Year 2000-compliant.

* Develop a budget to pay for the reprogramming of DOD computers.

Paige, who could not be reached for comment, also requested contracting offices to report by July 17 on any actions and progress.

Charles Ross, federal director for Data Dimensions Inc., a Colonial Beach, Va., company that offers Year 2000 reprogramming services, said the memo is a good first step toward fixing federal computers.

The General Services Administration plans to issue a requirement later this year that all products on its nonmandatory schedule contracts be certified as being Year 2000-compliant.

"The Paige memo is certainly appropriate in a triage sense," Ross said. "But the next step is to ask, `Are there official guidelines for what Year 2000 compliance is?' And right now, there are not."

Ross is working with the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) and the Software Productivity Consortium to develop a standard system to test all the software sold on the GSA schedule for Year 2000 compliance. The system would give software that passes the test a stamp of approval, much like the approval process that Underwriters Laboratories Inc. conducts for consumer products. The ITAA plans to present the system to GSA later this year.

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