Bills back Y2K fix, restrict IRS funding (Part 1)

Congressional appropriators are offering strong words and solid funding to some federal agencies struggling to address the Year 2000 computer problem. Language specifically addressing the Year 2000 issue appeared in bills pertaining to the Internal Revenue Service the Labor Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"The Year 2000 problem has certainly been deferred and postponed for about as long as it can be " said a source on the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee for Labor Health and Human Services and Education. "There was a consensus among committee members that this was important. If we did not provide the funds that the president requested there could be disastrous consequences."

The problem at the IRS presented a major concern to appropriators who set aside $377 million to resolve it. The House and Senate subcommittees that control the IRS' budget accused the agency of failing to develop a plan to assess and solve the problem and of providing "conflicting data" on how the agency would address the problem.

"The conferees are concerned that the [IRS'] century-date-change requirements are not yet finalized and projects and activities considered as part of the program may frequently change " the subcommittees wrote.

"Therefore the conferees direct the IRS to develop a century-date-change strategy that adequately addresses infrastructure assessment application renovation and validation of requirements."

The conferees also directed the IRS to provide quarterly progress reports and they specified exactly how the agency must spend the first $170 million to solve the problem.

House appropriators set aside $183 million to address the Year 2000 requirements of the Labor Department's Labor Unemployment Insurance program. The Senate subcommittee that controls Labor's budget recommended $150 million and the two sides are scheduled to meet this week to iron out the difference.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee for VA HUD and Independent Agencies noted that the Year 2000 problem has forced the Veterans Benefits Administration to stop work on the Veterans Services Network (Vetsnet) its next-generation benefits delivery system. The subcommittee allocated $7 million more than the president's request to address the problem.

The House subcommittee appropriated $5 million for the work. "If the problem is not corrected the result could be inaccurate and late benefit payments to millions of veterans " according to the House bill. "The committee expects the VA to defer further efforts on the existing Vetsnet program pending...the successful completion of the Year 2000 computer problem."

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) told attendees at a Year 2000 telecom conference last week that it is difficult for Congress to lay out money to address the problem because Congress receives conflicting signals from agencies on how much is needed.

Olga Grkavac vice president of the Systems Integration Division of the Information Technology Association of America agreed agencies must move quicker to identify their needs. "It's hard to determine what the level of Year 2000 funding should be when you don't know what the requirements are " she said.

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