Date-conversion biz lags for vendors

Although the government predicts it will spend billions of dollars fixing potential Year 2000 problems in its software programs most of the activity to date has been done within agencies with little business surfacing for product and service vendors. Federal agencies now have less than 30 months to identify and fix software that cannot distinguish between 20th and 21st century dates - a problem that could crash critical programs or possibly worse generate corrupt data.

In response vendors have made services and tools available on a number of governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) as well as the General Services Administration schedule contracts.

However despite the flurry of market activity most federal agencies have been slow to fix - or even assess - computer systems that may present a Year 2000 problem or have chosen to tackle the problem on their own according to federal observers.

A good deal of the Year 2000 tackling so far has come through contracts that are modified or through routine maintenance contracts industry sources said. "It's pretty invisible because it's treated like maintenance " said Nancy Peters vice president for business development for Year 2000 marketing at CACI Inc.

"In terms of support the vast majority is internal " said Ernesto Castro Year 2000 proj-ect manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some project management help for the problem has come from vendors through the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration Technical and Programming Support contract covering an array of software-development and systems-engineering tasks.

Going It Alone

And the VA is not the only agency that is going it alone so far. "At this point it is an entirely internal effort " said Frank Boyd an office automation specialist with the Government Printing Office's Superintendent of Documents. "We are managing it pretty much ourselves."

Likewise the Social Security Administration which became aware of its Year 2000 problem about eight years ago and which is seen as being far ahead of other agencies in fixing the problem also has taken a solo approach for the most part.

"Basically ours was an in-house effort " said Kathleen Adams the agency's assistant deputy commissioner for systems who said the agency has used Viasoft Inc.'s Estimate 2000 software to help identify and analyze date fields while using Isogon Corp.'s TICTOC to test how well SSA has fixed its problem.

Tapping Pacts

GWACs such as the National Institutes of Health's $100 million Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) contract awarded to 20 firms about a year ago have already been tapped by agencies including the Defense Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. Information Agency has used the Justice Department's $152 million governmentwide Information Technology Support Services contract to fight the Year 2000 problem Peters said.

In addition the Transportation Department's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP) provides a vehicle for Year 2000 assistance.

Within the Commerce Department each agency and bureau has its own procedures on how to address the Year 2000 problem. However Lisa Westerback director of the Office of Information Planning and Review at Commerce said in general smaller agencies are doing the work in-house and larger organizations are relying on current contractors.

Meanwhile the Agriculture Department is taking a similar approach. "We are working with existing contractors but will work with [other] contractors...especially [for] validation and verification services " said Ira Hobbs deputy chief information officer at USDA.

The department also will work with other agencies such as DOT to test Year 2000 software and might consider using the GSA schedule or GWACs if they provide what the USDA is looking for Hobbs added. Royce Goble chief operating officer with GMR Technologies International (GMRTI) also said agencies are using existing vehicles such as ITOP to procure Year 2000 tools and services.

Last month for example DOT tapped ITOP vendor Science Applications International Corp. to provide Year 2000 services. GMRTI is a subcontractor to SAIC and DOT installed GMRTI's Year 2000 software two weeks ago. GMRTI is a subsidiary of Government Micro Resources Inc. Manassas Va.

"That's the easy path for them " Goble said of the agencies' strategy of using existing vehicles for fixing the Year 2000 problem. "It comes down to a matter of trust and ease of use." He said agencies want to work with contractors they already have relationships with and are opting to use existing pacts because of the time it would take to conduct a Year 2000 procurement.

"For the most part they are looking to use [indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity-type] vehicles that they have familiarity with " said Bob Sutton director of business development for Litton/PRC Inc.'s Migration Solutions organization.

Mike Higgins president and chief executive officer of Century Services Inc. agreed that launching a Year 2000 procurement is the "court of last resort" for agencies. "There's just no time " he said. "It's most common for them to use the existing contract vehicles that they have." Century Services is a Year 2000 services vendor based in Germantown Md.

Higgins cited CIO-SP as an example of a contract with a built-in Year 2000 tasking area. The company offers its services through prime contractor Electronic Data Systems Corp.

The GSA Advantage

Because the GSA schedule offers quick turnaround it is expected to become increasingly attractive as a source for Year 2000 fixes as 2000 gets nearer vendors said.

Computer Associates International Inc. and Viasoft Inc. report Year 2000 tool sales are moving through the GSA schedule. "We've had a great deal of business come through GSA " said Mike Miller senior vice president at CA. He said sales have been to the tune of several million dollars during the last two quarters.

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