Cooperation key to Y2K efforts

Even just a year ago, it would have been inconceivable that the United States would share information about its nuclear early-warning and missile systems with Russia and other nuclear powers. But the Defense Department has proposed just such an exchange as a way to mitigate the risks of a nuclear mishap caused by Year 2000 problems in the systems that control nuclear weapons.

DOD's bold move dramatically demonstrates that when it comes to Year 2000 fixes, agencies must be willing to depart from conventional practices. In particular, DOD's proposal highlights how the success of one organization often hinges on the success or failure of others. In information technology parlance, that means interfaces.

Over the last six months, many agencies have realized that even the best efforts to fix systems will be futile if they receive corrupted data from outside organizations. The administration is compiling lists of interfaces and monitoring their status. The White House even has considered legislation that would give agencies more authority in overseeing the Year 2000 efforts of their contractors and business partners in the private sector. But at this point, no one can say how much weight such a law may carry, or even if it will pass soon enough to make a difference.

The rest of government must follow DOD's lead and move beyond thinking about their organizations and systems in isolation. Organizations at all levels of government and in industry must be willing to share detailed information on computer systems— information that previously may have been closely guarded. Only by acting cooperatively can government begin to face down the Year 2000 problem.

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