Senators consider creating separate Y2K committee

Senate leaders are considering creating a special committee that would take a lead role in overseeing agencies' and industry's Year 2000 problem, according to sources familiar with Senate plans.

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee and chairman of a Senate subcommittee on financial services and technology, broached the topic Wednesday at a meeting of the Washington Year 2000 User Group. He said Senate leadership is expected to make an announcement this week on its plan to strengthen coordination of Year 2000 issues among Senate committees, according to sources who attended the meeting.

Bennett would be appointed chairman of the committee, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) may be named vice chairman, sources said. Also, committee membership would be split between Republicans and Democrats, sources said.

Bennett spokeswoman Mary Jane Collipriest said plans of the committee are not final, and Senate leaders are still discussing their options. "It's still in the talking stages," she said. "It has not been refined yet."

Kirsten Shaw, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said she was unaware of any plans to create a special Year 2000 committee.

But a congressional source, who requested anonymity, said the committee is on the Senate's agenda, and Lott is assessing how serious the Year 2000 issue is going to be. "This issue is going to bounce back because there are reports that have already suggested that not all of the mission-critical systems in the federal government will be fixed by the Year 2000," according to the source.

"Sen. Lott has looked around and asked himself 'Who in the Senate has done the most on this issue?' and he knows that the expertise exists in the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Services and Technology, which has held a number of hearings on the Year 2000 issue," the source said.

Hill observers and the information technology industry said the creation of such a committee would be a positive move as the Year 2000 draws nearer. Olga Grkavac, senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Systems Integration Division, applauded the idea to form a Senate Year 2000 committee. "It's a recognition of the Senate leadership that extra efforts are needed in regard to the Year 2000," she said. "We would hope that the House would follow suit."

A House staff member familiar with the federal government's Year 2000 problem said the House is already ahead of the Senate in overseeing the Year 2000 issue, and he doubted the House would form a similar committee. He added that the Senate might be better served if its existing committees simply ramped up Year 2000 oversight rather than creating a special Year 2000 committee.

"I don't see why [Senate] committees already in existence can't just become more active on it," he said.

An Office of Management and Budget spokesman for John Koskinen, the federal Year 2000 czar, said the creation of a Senate Year 2000 committee would be a positive development.

"We certainly are in favor of anything that contributes to greater awareness of the Year 2000 problem, and we will look forward to working with the committee," the spokesman said.

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