States Will Follow Feds in Y2K Fix

PITTSBURGH -- Representatives from 41 states and 21 federal agencies convened here last week for a one-day "summit" to hammer out fundamental computer interface issues that must be worked out if state computers are to continue to exchange data with federal systems through the Year 2000.

The 107 attendees, including many state chief executive officers, agreed that states should follow the federal government's lead by using a four-digit standard for the Year 2000 in government computers. Conferees also decided to form two intergovernmental working groups to tackle Year 2000 technical and policy issues, and they agreed that the federal government would provide states with a set of time tables that included outputs and measures for completing Year 2000 fixes.

"We have established a mutual preference at both the federal and state level for a four-digit year," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who presided over the summit. "Nobody walking into this conference knew we would arrive at this. But through our discussions, we have a critical part of the problem resolved."

Added Carolyn Purcell, chief information officer of Texas: "It may seem trivial that there should be other technology for solving this problem in the short term. But the fact that [the four-digit year] has been established as a standard for communication between state and federal systems is a significant accomplishment."

Attendees spent the day divided into three groups to tackle specific areas. One group addressed strategies for inventorying common interfaces between data partners, especially federal and state agencies. Another group worked through the issue of mutual certification and testing, while a third group tackled the area of electronic bridges.

State computer systems process information for many federal programs -- from Social Security benefits data to crime information -- which is then uploaded to federal systems. "There is a very real risk for each and every organization involved here," said Sally Katzen, administrator of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. "The consequences of not finding solutions [are] not acceptable. Failure is not an option." 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 Department of Labor.

The federal government has hedged on several tough questions, such as how much of the states' Y2K bill the federal government will ultimately shoulder. But high-level federal officials steered clear of the controversial issue at the meeting, in part to avoid bogging down the discussions. "Candidly, it is refreshing to be engaged in a Year 2000 discussion that is not obsessively focused on cost," Katzen said. "Really, it's apples and oranges anyway since Year 2000 costs will show up as maintenance costs in some states and as overhead costs in others."

States are looking at more than $5 billion to provide all Y2K fixes to the myriad computer programs throughout the country, according to John Thomas Flynn, California's CIO and the current president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.

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