Adding a dose of reality to Y2K

The shouting and glass-breaking you might have heard this past New Year's Eve was more than the usual neighborhood revelers. We also heard the collective wail of scores of agency IT professionals who now have just 15 months to install computer systems that are Year 2000-compliant.

The decision by the Office of Management and Budget to move up dramatically the deadline—- from November to March 1999—- when agencies must have rewritten and installed Year 2000-compliant systems was born of necessity. One month is not enough time to work the bugs out of a new system. But the reality is that many agencies were challenged by the November deadline. And for a good number of them, the new March deadline is an impossible dream.

At the same time, OMB said it would issue apportionment orders to agencies with insufficient Year 2000 progress, thereby redirecting hundreds of millions of IT dollars to Year 2000 solutions. Once again, the OMB decision was more than justified. Too bad it was not done sooner when there was more time to effect change.

Who's fooling whom? Many agencies already know that there is simply not enough money and not enough time to get all agency systems up and running by 2000. Congress and OMB should make a joint New Year's resolution this year to add a dose of reality to the Year 2000 discussion. It is time to do away with the report cards, false deadlines and unrealistic expectations. Rather, OMB should use the remaining 700-plus days to push agencies to complete assessments, prioritize systems fixes and redirect funding and manpower. Another worthwhile endeavor would be to prepare some disaster-recovery plans for those agencies that simply run out of time.

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