National Finance Center closes gap on Y2K compliance

The Agriculture Department's National Finance Center, which processes payrolls for numerous agencies and manages the government's multibillion-dollar Thrift Savings Plan, is one step closer to making its computer systems Year 2000-compliant.

On June 30, the NFC finished renovating more than 23 million lines of code contained in the mission-critical systems that process financial and administrative data for more than 100 federal agencies. The code was checked and fixed and is ready to be tested for Year 2000 compliance.

"Our goal was to have the code remediated, tested and returned to production by June 30 this year," said John Ortego, director of the NFC. "We did this with minimal outside support and without asking the users to pay additional costs. It can be done on time and within budget."

Ortego said he assigned about 200 people to work on fixing the software code to meet the self-imposed June 30 deadline. Also helping the NFC meet the deadline was its decision to use an approach known as "windowing," which is a shortcut Year 2000 fix that allows software programs to assume what century a given date is in. The NFC will use windowing to assume that any date with a two-digit year below 50 is a year that occurs in the 21st century. The program assumes years above 50 occurred in the 20th century. This approach is a faster and less expensive, although less comprehensive, method to fix software code than changing two-digit year fields to four-digit year fields.

"Windowing is a way of easing the pain," said Ed McManus, the project manager for the Year 2000 readiness project at the NFC. "By using it, we don't need to change as many programs and expand date fields. It reduces the workload."

Another motivation for using windowing, McManus said, is that all the current applications will be replaced by 2005. This will obviate the need to fix programs that currently rely on windowing.

The six mission-critical systems renovated by the NFC were: payroll and personnel, Thrift Savings Plan, administrative payments, billings and collections, accounting and property.

"We have established a separate but duplicate mainframe," McManus said. "On this platform, we will advance the system date to the Year 2000 and beyond and will actually simulate processing."

McManus and his team also will test the Year 2000 compliance interfaces between the NFC and other agencies. For example, the NFC receives payroll, time, attendance and other data from agencies. It processes data on a biweekly basis and transmits payment information to the Treasury Department, which then cuts checks. However, if a payment is made via electronic funds transfer, then Treasury sends the data to the Federal Reserve.

The NFC has identified more than 556 interfaces between it and more than 290 locations.

Treasury's Financial Management Service has two systems that interface with the NEC: one system that supports payment via electronic funds transfer and another that supports check payments. Both systems will be Year 2000-compliant by the end of this year, said Connie Craig, the chief information officer for FMS.

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