Legislation not Year 2000 solution

In what is beginning to look more and more like a high-stakes game of "Tag— You're It," the Clinton administration now is considering asking Congress for legislation that would make federal contractors more accountable for Year 2000 computer fixes.

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Year 2000 Conversion Council, went on record last week saying he is gauging agency reaction to legislation that would help "bring the [Year 2000] contractors in line."

Few details were available, but Koskinen indicated that any such legislation would be agency-specific vs. a blanket government approach.

While we are not above assigning blame in our own offices for crashing computers or sludge-slow e-mail, laying the Year 2000 problem at the feet of the contracting community seems to run counter to the new procurement environment. Acquisition reform was designed to bring about an environment where government and industry work as partners to deliver systems that provide services to the citizens. Liability assignment tears at the partnership idea. Dragging in lawyers to hold contractors' feet to the fire could re-create the very type of adversarial relationship that many have worked to replace.

However well-meaning, Year 2000 legislation makes the assumption that federal contractors must be held legally accountable. It assumes a level of mistrust and malfeasance, and it will certainly chill the contracting community's willingness to do business with the government at a time when resources are already scarce.

We don't believe the solution to the Year 2000 problem lies in legislation. The administration should use the time remaining to prioritize fixes, redirect funding, identify the manpower and prepare disaster-recovery plans for those agencies that don't make the deadline.

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