Y2K czar: $5.5 billion enough

Year 2000 czar John Koskinen last week said the federal government should have more than enough money earmarked in fiscal 1999 to fix the millennium bug.

President Clinton earmarked millions of dollars in his fiscal 1999 budget request for reprogramming or replacing computer systems that are not Year 2000-compliant. But Koskinen said that two proposed Year 2000 contingency funds containing nearly $5.5 billion dollars beyond the administration's budget requests should cover the costs of fixing federal computer systems.

The two proposed funds that the federal government might draw from include a $3.2 billion pool of money that the administration is requesting to cover anything from Year 2000 fixes to emergency military missions. The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed another pool of money, which includes $2.25 billion that agencies could use for the Year 2000 problem.

"That's more than enough," Koskinen told reporters last week at the first in a planned series of press briefings.

Some federal observers have complained that the administration is being too conservative in its budget requests for fixing the Year 2000 problem, focusing instead on maintaining a balanced budget. But Koskinen disagreed with that assertion.

Regardless of how much money goes toward the Year 2000 problem, it will not be able to buy time. "If you assume that most of those resources [$30 billion for all information technology spending in the fiscal 1999 budget proposal] are going to go to the Year 2000— and additional moneys— it may be enough. But nobody knows," said Olga Grkavac, senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Systems Integration Division. "In the end, there's still not enough time."

Koskinen acknowledged that he does not expect that the federal Year 2000 problem will be entirely fixed by 2000. Federal officials are uncovering Year 2000 problems in other places, particularly in embedded computer chips used for everything from security systems to dam operations. But Koskinen said the government cannot predict how many computer systems may shut down on Jan. 1, 2000.

Programmers Become Scarce

Some of the largest obstacles in fixing the Year 2000 problem still remain as programmers become scarce. "Money can't buy time, and there [will] come a point where the resources become so expensive because they'll be in such short supply," Grkavac said.

The Office of Management and Budget estimated that the federal government will spend $1.14 billion in fiscal 1999 to fix the Year 2000 problem.

OMB forecasts that from fiscal 1996 through fiscal 2000 an estimated $4.7 billion will have been spent on the problem. That estimate is expected to go up next month, when OMB releases a new report.

Congress questions those cost estimates and whether more money than expected will be needed as labor becomes scarce and as agencies learn more about what it will cost to fix their computers.

Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.) said OMB's Year 2000 cost estimate is "terribly optimistic." She favors doubling the $2.25 billion Year 2000 contingency fund proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee this month. Year 2000 "is labor-intensive and there's an unrelenting deadline," she said. "I just think you have to be more realistic."

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