OMB responds to Year 2000 criticism

In response to a recent General Accounting Office draft report that criticized the Clinton administration's management of Year 2000, the Office of Management and Budget last week reiterated its Year 2000 strategy.

OMB responded to a draft report GAO released this month recommending that the recently created President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion expand its role in overseeing how agencies are managing the correction of their computer systems so that they can properly process dates after 1999.

Specifically, GAO recommended that the council:

* Establish governmentwide priorities focusing on mission-critical systems.

* Ensure that end-to-end testing of mission-critical and supporting systems occurs across organizational boundaries.

* Expand OMB's reporting requirements beyond the departments being monitored in the OMB report.

* Require agencies, as part of their routine Year 2000 reporting to OMB, to update their progress in implementing systems intended to replace non-compliant systems.

But in a letter sent last week to Gene Dodaro, assistant comptroller general at GAO, John Koskinen, chairman of the Year 2000 conversion council, repeated the strategy he has stated publicly since taking the job March 9.

"I believe we need to structure the council's activities carefully to maximize its effectiveness," Koskinen wrote. "In a number of places where the draft report recommends that the council direct or require agency action, the council will work closely with OMB and the CIO Council's Year 2000 subcommittee to determine the most appropriate combination of approaches, including asking the right questions, directing specific actions and working cooperatively to develop and promote best practices."

GAO officials declined to respond to Koskinen's letter. GAO will address his comments in the final report due in April, GAO spokesman Cleve Corlett said.

Olga Grkavac, senior vice president of Information Technology Association of America's Systems Integration Division, said Koskinen is taking a realistic approach to the management of Year 2000, but she said he may change his strategy later. "For now he's in a fact-finding mode, but I expect him to modify his priorities as he learns more about where agencies are in their Year 2000 work," Grkavac said. "Because of the limited resources and time, Koskinen has to carefully select what projects the council can undertake in order to be effective."

Nevertheless, GAO continues to criticize OMB's management of the Year 2000 process, saying it has weaknesses. "OMB has never required that agencies adhere to specific steps in completing the five phases of Year 2000 conversion work," said Joel Willemssen, GAO's director of civilian agencies information systems. "As a result, when we go to agencies we see varying interpretations of each phase of the process."

The five phases are: Become aware of the Year 2000 problem, assess the systems that have Year 2000 software and hardware problems, reprogram or replace those systems, test the systems and install the fixed systems and operate them in real situations.

Willemssen also said he hopes that the CIO Council on Year 2000 can be strengthened. "We've found the committee to be an effective forum for sharing best practices and other Year 2000-related items," he said. "However, agencies are not required to participate, and participation is mixed."

Koskinen envisions agencies, particularly larger ones, having a more expanded role, not the council. "I think that the council can be more effective by enlisting and supporting [something] like the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve as the coordinator on outreach to financial institutions and the Department of Health and Human Services as the coordinator on outreach to the health care industry— empowering them to determine the appropriate measures government should take to assure progress in these areas," he said.

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