The numbers game

The countdown has begun. Parties broke out on both sides of the Atlantic last week to mark the approach of the millennium - 1 000 days to the Year 2000. However the time for playing the numbers game has come and gone.

In February the Office of Management and Budget announced it would cost just $2.3 billion to fix the problem. But that figure excluded certain solutions such as total system replacement. Federal Sources Inc. released a report just last month that pegged total Year 2000 costs at $5.6 billion. It is not clear if any of these estimates include the cost of fixing the interfaces between state and federal systems.

With fewer than 1 000 days to go agencies themselves still don't know how much the Year 2000 fix will cost. Acting Navy CIO Marv Langston told a breakfast audience last week that he doesn't know if the problem will cost his agency $100 million or $400 million.

We need to realize that estimates - whether by agency or consultant accurate or inaccurate - are academic at best. The work must be completed. The time for sizing the problem is past. We are now hearing ominous indications that some agencies and vendors are trying to assign responsibility - or blame - just in case everything doesn't work perfectly - not a situation that instills confidence in the user or the taxpayer.With skilled personnel already leaving government as the demand for software specialists rises we do not need to add liability issues to the challenges already on the plate of the Year 2000 SWAT teams.

Speaking of numbers the countdown continues: 991 days.v

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