GAO: FAA's Y2K solution too little, late

The General Accounting Office is expected to tell House committees at a joint hearing this week that the Federal Aviation Administration is the "furthest behind any other agency" in its attempts to fix its computers so that they will not fail after the century-date change, according to a government official.

In testimony scheduled to be given Wednesday before the House Science Committee's Technology Subcommittee and the Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, GAO is expected to report that the FAA has more than 100 mission-critical systems that have yet to be assessed, putting the nation's air traffic control (ATC) system at a high risk of failure and months behind almost every other federal agency, an official familiar with the report told Federal Computer Week last week.

The Office of Management and Budget, which is overseeing agencies' efforts to make computer systems Year 2000-compliant, reported last year that by June 1997, agencies should have completed the assessment phase of identifying which computer systems cannot properly process dates occurring after 1999.

Raymond Long, manager of the air traffic services Year 2000 program office, said the FAA would have completed assessing its ATC computer systems by Jan. 30. "We'll have all of our air traffic mission-critical systems assessed, with many of these systems now at the renovation stage," when the software date codes and hardware are fixed, he said.

However, the GAO report also claimed the FAA has weaknesses that inhibit its ability to manage its Year 2000 fix, including its lack of a Year 2000 program manager. Loni Czekalski retired in December as the FAA's Year 2000 manager after less than six months in the position.

"The FAA is without a czar, and the position does not have sufficient power and authority to do the job," the source said. "As of Jan. 16, the FAA had not made a decision as to whether they should make the position a Senior Executive Service position, which would give that person the power and authority required."

GAO also is concerned with testing the FAA's vast systems, which interface with ATC systems at airports nationwide. In addition, the agency has not developed its contingency strategies to GAO's satisfaction, and costs are expected to rise significantly as the FAA's Year 2000 work progresses.

Kim Taylor, the FAA's director of information resources management, said his agency needs more funds to complete its Year 2000 task. "We have a need for resources to get through this job, and we have identified that the cost of this is about $266 million," Taylor said. "We need to figure out where those resources are coming from, and so certainly that is a concern of ours."

Funding for the FAA's Year 2000 program also has caught the attention of Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.), chairwoman of the Technology Subcommittee, who recently told FCW that she will support an increase in funding for the FAA but with some stipulations.

"If they need more, they've got to speak loudly and clearly and explain why they need it, what they need it for and how quickly they need it," Morella said.

At last week's ComNet trade show in Washington, D.C., Morella said the FAA is having some "real serious problems in trying to fix" the Year 2000 problem on an accelerated basis. "We have found that the government is really not up to par, and the government should be the leader," she said. "Really there is no entity that is not involved." Morella expects agencies to ask for supplemental appropriations for the conversion work.

The FAA's Long said the agency is in the process of building a Year 2000 test plan. "We are going to go outside the agency to hire a contractor to help us build the test plan," Long said. "We recognize the uniqueness of the Year 2000 problem, and with our knowledge of the air traffic control system and the knowledge of a partner that knows about testing, we can build a center capable of doing proper end-to-end testing."

Also, the FAA is receiving help from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to determine if the IBM Corp. mainframes that controllers use to direct air traffic need to be replaced. The FAA operates 20 en route centers, each of which has two mainframes, to process radar data.

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