Feds, states agree to Year 2000 interfaces

PITTSBURGH - Information technology officials last week hunkered down here to decide how to develop Year 2000 interfaces between federal and state computer systems sidestepping tough issues such as the hefty cost for fixing state computer programs and the portion of that bill the federal government will ultimately shoulder.

Many state computer systems process information for numerous federal/state programs - everything from Social Security benefits to crime information - that is downloaded into federal systems. If state systems do not use the same standard for identifying dates such as four digits or two digits the systems will not be able to exchange information.

Hammering It Out

State and federal IT officials who attended the CIO Summit on Year 2000 - 107 high-level attendees from 21 federal agencies and 42 states - spent Tuesday hammering out those standards. Attendees divided into three groups to discuss strategies for taking inventory of common data mutual certification and testing and electronic bridges.

Officials agreed to three key points: States most likely will follow the federal government's lead and use a four-digit year representation two Year 2000 working groups one federal and one state will be established to continue a dialog on interfacing and the federal government will provide to states a set of timetables including outputs and measures for completing Year 2000 fixes.

"Nobody walking into this conference knew we would arrive at this " said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge who presided over the summit. "But through our discussions we have a critical part of the problem resolved."

Unlike the federal debate over the Year 2000 crisis officials did not spend time discussing the costs of fixing computer systems. "Candidly it is refreshing to be engaged in a Year 2000 discussion that is not obsessively focused on cost " said Sally Katzen administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. "Really it's apples and oranges anyway [because] Year 2000 costs will show up as maintenance costs in some states and as overhead costs in others."

In May Katzen came under fire when her office estimated the federal government would spend $2.8 billion on fixing federal computer systems so they could properly process the year 2000. Private-sector groups have estimated the cost to be $5.6 billion to $30 billion. In August OMB increased its cost estimate to $3.8 billion. Rough estimates compiled by the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE) estimated states would collectively spend more than $5 billion to fix state programs.

But instead of allowing discussions to become bogged down by funding debates the 107 high-level attendees from 21 federal agencies and 42 states took on more mundane but critical issues necessary to keep intergovernmental interfacing possible through the millennium.

Federal agencies represented at the summit included those that deal most heavily with state governments including the General Services Administration the Internal Revenue Service the Social Security Administration and the Labor Department. DOL pending the outcome of ongoing appropriations debates will dole out upward of $150 million to states in an effort to fix Year 2000 glitches that threaten U.S. unemployment insurance programs.

Katzen said any federal money put toward state Year 2000 efforts would likely be ad hoc funding measures similar to the DOL appropriation.

-- Jones is a free-lance writer based in Falls Church Va.

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