GAO report hits DOD Y2K efforts

The General Accounting Office last week warned that the failure of at least some Defense Department mission-critical systems and the operations they support is "almost certain" unless DOD takes corrective action in its Year 2000 program soon.

In a report released late last week, GAO officials said that despite some progress, DOD lacks key management and oversight controls to enforce good management practices, to direct resources and to establish a complete picture of its progress for fixing the Year 2000 computer date problems.

The report, "Year 2000 Computer Problems Threaten DOD Operations," concluded that DOD lacks complete and reliable information on the total cost of its Year 2000 fix and on systems, interfaces and other equipment that need repair. In addition, the report noted that DOD "is spending limited resources fixing nonmission-critical systems even though most mission-critical systems have not been corrected."

"The Defense Department is so large and complex and is not used to centrally managing big information technology problems like the one the Year 2000 poses," said John Stephenson, GAO's assistant director of the Accounting and Information Division. "It's going to be difficult for the department to complete all of its mission-critical systems in time," Stephenson added.

But the department last week defended the way it is managing the Year 2000 problem.

"The Defense Department has adopted a decentralized approach to Year 2000 matters; we have established central policy, particularly to ensure mission-critical systems operate correctly," a DOD spokeswoman said last week. She also said the department has a high degree of certainty that its mission-critical systems, such as the ones mentioned in the report, will be Year 2000-compliant by Jan. 1, 1999, and said that in the near future, the agency "expects 1999 will host the most extensive computer testing in history."

Breakdown in Military Communication

The report noted that if major systems, such as the Defense Message System, fail in the new year, "it would be difficult to monitor enemy operations or conduct military engagements."

The report also noted that "aircraft and other military equipment could be grounded because the computer systems used to schedule maintenance and track supplies may not work."

The GAO report recommended that DOD establish a comprehensive, accurate departmentwide inventory of systems, interfaces and other equipment, develop contingency plans and prepare complete and accurate Year 2000 cost estimates.

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