Panel cites lack of preparedness

Preliminary findings from a congressional survey indicate that most federal agencies have only just begun to develop plans to tackle the problem of reprogramming their computers to accept the Year 2000, prompting major concern among lawmakers about the possible consequences.

The survey - which was sent to agencies this spring by the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, chaired by Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.) - shows that most agencies have yet to begin the first step - conducting an inventory of their systems.

"There's no agency that's got to the point where they have conducted an inventory, [identified a fix] and then are in the testing phase," said Susan Marshall, a staff member on the subcommittee who is compiling the results of the survey. "And as we are being told, [agencies] really need to be in that testing phase by 1998, which is only a year and a half away. But no one is even close to it. Even [the Defense Department], which is considered a leader, just started working on this issue last year."

'They Know There's a Problem'

Olga Grkavak, vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Systems Integration Division, said the survey "confirms our own observations, from our continual contact with the agencies, that we are concerned about how far behind they are. They know there's a problem and that it's serious, but they're having problems coming up with a plan" to solve it.

"They're not making the progress that they should," she added.

Marshall, who spoke last week at a program sponsored by the ITAA and the congressional IT working groups to inform congressional staffs on the Year 2000 problem, said Horn had not decided what to do in response to the survey results. Horn plans to use the survey to make agencies accountable for their lack of action and as a means to prod senior-level management to act.

As of last week, five agencies had yet to respond to the survey, including the departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Transportation and the Agency for International Development. The survey will be completed no earlier than next week.

Marshall said the survey's responses will be given to the General Accounting Office "to see if there are any trends that we want them to look at in more detail, if there are other glitches that need attention, if people aren't moving forward fast enough or if there are other technical nuances that we did not consider but need to."

One of the primary problems facing agencies is the cost of reprogramming systems to accept the Year 2000 without causing errors and then testing them. Federal agencies, which now are pre-paring fiscal 1998 budgets, have indicated that they will be requesting additional money from Congress to pay for Year 2000 conversions, which are estimated to cost up to $30 billion.

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