GAO: USDA 'unlikely' to meet Y2K deadline

It is "highly unlikely" that the Agriculture Department will fix all its computer systems in time for the Year 2000 data change, the General Accounting Office reported today.

At a hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Joel Willemssen, director of civil agencies information systems at GAO, said the majority of USDA systems have not been renovated. Of the 10 USDA agencies reviewed by GAO, including the Forest Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, about 80 percent of the work remains to be done.

In addition, the USDA plans to replace about 42 percent of the reported 596 mission-critical systems that still need to be renovated. "This is cause for concern [because] replacement systems are often a high risk because federal agencies have a long history of difficulty in delivering planned systems on time," Willemssen said.

Anne Thomson Reed, chief information officer at the USDA, said the department as a whole is about halfway finished with its work. But while the department is proud of its efforts, "We are far from satisfied," she said. "There is much more work to be done over the next 19 months to get our systems prepared for the new millennium."

Reed said the USDA has taken steps to strengthen the department's Year 2000 program. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman established a Year 2000 program office, directed each agency administrator to appoint a Year 2000 senior adviser and tightened the moratorium on information technology purchases to require the CIO to approve any expenditures of more than $25,000.

Committee chairman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said he will closely watch the USDA's progress. Failure to fix USDA computers for the Year 2000 problem could seriously affect farmers who rely on the USDA for services, he said.

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