Air Force's costs soar skyward

The Air Force will spend hundreds of millions of dollars more than previously estimated to ensure that its thousands of computers properly process dates after 1999, according to new Air Force cost estimates.

To fix its 2,944 computer systems so that they are Year 2000-compliant, the Air Force now estimates it will spend $622 million— an increase of $217 million from its September estimate of $405 million, Bernhard Hoenle, the Air Force's director and chief information officer for support, told Federal Computer Week last week.

The costs to fix the computer systems increased because the Air Force found almost 500 additional computer systems that need fixing, Hoenle said. Also, the Air Force estimates it will spend $70 million to $90 million to fix telephone switches throughout the service.

Hoenle said the Air Force will pay for its Year 2000 fixes "out of our current budget through to the Year 2000." But he also indicated the costs could increase more. "It's a moving number."

The $217 million increase was not part of the latest Office of Management and Budget quarterly Year 2000 report, which pegged the government's cost to fix computers governmentwide at $3.9 billion.

The new estimates come on the heels of a General Accounting Office report that is highly critical of the Air Force's management of the Year 2000 problem. In its report, GAO said the Air Force— which operates everything from supply and personnel computers to critical warfighting systems that operate combat, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and air traffic control— is "vulnerable" to system failures if it does not accelerate its program to rewrite software code so that the computers can properly process next-century dates.

"These are big problems for the Air Force," said Jack Brock, director of information management issues at GAO and the author of the report. "I'm not prepared to say that they will make the deadline, and I'm not prepared to say they won't, but it's an important deadline that they should be shooting for."

GAO's Findings

The report, "Defense Computers: Air Force Needs to Strengthen Year 2000 Oversight," cited weaknesses in the Air Force's management approach as well as its inability to identify how its computers interface with computers operated by other military services and its inability to properly assess costs. The report further identified the need to develop testing and contingency plans. GAO also chastised the agency for not using new cost estimates to decide whether it should fix or replace the systems that are not Year 2000-compliant.

"Neglecting any one of [these areas] can seriously endanger the Air Force's ability to meet its Year 2000 deadline," the report noted. "Given its role in national security and its inter-

dependence with other military organizations, the Air Force cannot afford this risk."

GAO collected the information for the report before OMB pushed its deadline for installing fixed and fully tested systems from November 1999 back to March 1999. Brock said that because the Air Force had only assessed two-thirds of its systems in September, the Air Force will now have "added pressure" to meet OMB's deadline.

Hoenle said the Air Force needs to assess less than 10 percent of its 2,944 systems, and he noted that for some systems, assessment and renovation are being done at the same time. "It's a merger of the two different phases," he said. "The majority of the systems are in renovation, and we're working toward getting them all implemented by December 1998."

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