GAO: 'No one in charge' of Y2K

The General Accounting Office's chief scientist last week said "no one is in charge" of the federal government's Year 2000 preparations and that nobody knows for sure just how much headway the government is making in its battle against the clock.

Speaking at the Year 2000 National Security and the Global Economy conference in Washington, D.C., Rona B. Stillman said "our entire way of life, in essence, is at risk" because of problems managing the government's Year 2000 efforts. "We don't know the [Year 2000] status of the federal government with any real precision," she said.

Stillman said Year 2000 management problems have arisen because large federal agencies have pushed responsibility for Year 2000 fixes down to lower-level agency components. In addition, federal agencies do not use a single, common definition for Year 2000 compliance, do not use common test criteria or reporting requirements and have not undertaken global prioritization to determine just how critical certain systems are, Stillman said.

"It's one hell of a management problem" involving thousands of entities throughout government and industry and billions of lines of code, Stillman said. As of May 1998, 39 percent of mission-critical systems governmentwide were reported to be Year 2000-compliant, she said.

Stillman also said the government has no master schedule in place to conduct compliance testing on mission-critical systems and that the definition of what constitutes a "system" is inconsistent from agency to agency.

For example, GAO found organizations in the Defense Department reporting video teleconferencing systems as mission-critical and placing them next to logistics systems and other warfighting systems on their Year 2000 priority list, Stillman said. Other agencies reported systems as compliant when, in fact, the systems were still undergoing renovation or development work, she said.

Miriam Browning, the director of information management for the Army, took issue with Stillman's conclusion that "no one is in charge" of the Year 2000, saying that if the Army thought in that fashion it never would have fought in World War II and would not have troops stationed in Bosnia today.

"It's also about attitude, belief and commitment," Browning said. However, "we're still rooting out pockets of denial." As of May, the Army had 177,000 systems and electronic devices that required Year 2000 fixes, Browning said. "I wish we had started earlier, but we did not," she said.

Stillman said that to better manage the Year 2000 problem, the government should establish governmentwide priorities for mission-critical business processes and develop a way to validate agencies' progress reports.

Still, Stillman said all of the government's critical systems will not be renovated and tested by 2000. "This is as pretty a picture [as] we can put together," she said.

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