IT community calls draft GSA standard 'impossible' to meet

Calling it an "impossible" standard to meet, the information technology community is seeking a compromise with government groups that would relieve it from proposed contract language requiring vendors to guarantee "fault-free" processing of data affected by the Year 2000 date change.

At issue are efforts by the General Services Administration, the Year 2000 Interagency Committee and Congress to ensure that vendors provide hardware and software that is Year 2000-compliant.

GSA, working with the interagency committee, wrote Year 2000-compliance contract language for inclusion in federal contracts. The draft language calls for contractors to warrant "fault-free performance in the processing of data and date-related data...by all hardware and software products delivered" under a given contract.

The Senate version of the Defense authorization bill, meanwhile, contains a clause that would require contractors to comply with "generally accepted industry standards for providing fault-free processing of date and date-related data" (see story, page 24).

"The standard [of fault-free processing] is impossible for industry to meet," said Olga Grkavac, vice president of the Systems Integration Division at the Information Technology Association of America.

Grkavac and other industry executives said that providing such a guarantee is unworkable given that a system may interact with other systems and fail if corrupted data is introduced.

Dave Nahmias, federal product marketing manager with Informix Software Inc., said his company can guarantee that its database software - in isolation - will support the Year 2000. But he added that "we are one piece of a much more complex puzzle. As sophisticated as systems are today, I'm not sure how you would implement [the contract language] in practice."

Michele Perry, general manager of Software AG Federal Systems, noted that many of the company's products are Year 2000-compliant and that all the products will be compliant by the end of 1997.

But certifying applications built around the company's database and fourth-generation language products is not as straightforward. She said she is concerned that "senior non-IT management could confuse product compliance with applications compliance."

GSA plans to develop a final version of the contract language incorporating industry and agency feedback.

"We have received comment from industry on fault-free and some concerns they have there," said Larry Wolfe, director of GSA's Strategic Information Technology Analysis Division. He said GSA is working through the comments and hopes to complete the revision in a few weeks. The Year 2000 Interagency Committee plans to vote on the latest version in August.

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