Hill proposes $200M more for Year 2000 fix

Congress, faced with the ticking of the Year 2000 clock, used the 1998 supplemental appropriations bill to add more than $200 million in funding to help the Federal Aviation Administration and the Treasury Department rectify computer date problems in key systems before the turn of the century.

The House passed the bill before adjourning last week, but the Senate refused to vote on the bill, "insisting" on a conference on issues unrelated to Year 2000 funding. The bulk of the funding in the bill is for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and the Middle East.

Under the supplemental bill, the FAA would receive an additional $156 million in funding "for expenses relating to the Year 2000 computer and hardware problems.'' The additional funding comes from two different accounts: $47.2 million from the operations portion of the Airport and Airways Trust Fund and $108.8 million from the Facilities and Equipment portion of that fund.

FAA officials were not available for comment late last week, but at a press briefing on Friday, FAA officials said the agency would need $156 million to fix its Year 2000 problem. This figure does not include the estimated $100 million it will take to replace the 42 mainframes located in the en route centers that are being made Year 2000-compliant. These systems, which process radar and flight data to show on controllers' screens, were scheduled for replacement in 2003, but that date may be moved up.

FAA officials also said last week that by the end of September, all 784 agency systems will be renovated.

Treasury, which relies heavily on older mainframes to support the Internal Revenue Service, gained an additional $44.7 million in funding for its Year 2000 accounts. But according to a source familiar with the Treasury portion of the supplemental appropriations bill, the amount does not represent new funding but rather a reprogramming from other Treasury accounts.

Treasury's Year 2000 increase, the source said, reflects a rescission of $11.3 million from the Customs Service plus a rescission of $33.4 million from the IRS technology account. "This is a zero-sum game,'' the source said.

James Flyzik, Treasury's deputy assistant secretary for information systems/chief information officer, said he was aware of the reprogramming, but he declined to comment.

A congressional source expressed frustration with the last-minute initiative. "Why didn't they ask for this amount last year?" the source asked. "By not taking aggressive action two years ago, the administration has increased the costs now. The longer they wait for more funds, the more expensive it's going to be."

Whether or not the FAA and Treasury gain these additional funds depends on the result of a conference between the House and Senate when Congress returns from its Easter break April 21.

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