Cohen: Y2K takes priority
- By Bob Brewin, Orlando De Bruce
- Aug 16, 1998
The Defense Department has warned the military services that it will impose a moratorium on all software system modifications in calendar 1999 if necessary to permit all its information technology resources to focus on fixing the Year 2000 millennium bug, according to a memo signed earlier this month by Secretary of Defense William Cohen.
The move came as the Office of Management and Budget prepares to issue a report that the number of DOD non-Year 2000-compliant mission-critical systems has increased, not decreased, since the last progress report in May. Top DOD officials also have discovered that some nuclear command and control (C2) systems are further behind schedule in Year 2000 remediation than initially reported, one DOD official said last week.
As an indication of the high-level concern that the Year 2000 issue has gained in the Pentagon, the Cohen memo holds the commanders in chief and their operational staffs responsible for fixing the Year 2000 problem. DOD also has made some changes in its Year 2000 leadership, appointing Marv Langston, the DOD deputy chief information officer, to head a Year 2000 task force. He replaces Bill Curtis, who will serve as the special assistant for the Year 2000 responsible for dealing with other government organizations, including OMB, as well as U.S. allies and the former Soviet states.
The potential software development moratorium outlined in the Cohen memo would apply to every type of DOD computer system, ranging from plain-vanilla administrative systems to the embedded systems in the Air Force's next-generation air superiority fighter, the F-22, according to knowledgeable DOD and industry officials.
The Cohen memo, sent to all top DOD commanders, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all four military services, directors of the Defense agencies and the commanders in chief, strengthened Year 2000 system assessment and reporting requirements. It directed that by Oct. 1, 1998:
* The list of mission-critical systems must be accurately reflected in an until-now incomplete DOD Year 2000 database.
* Funds will not obligated for any mission-critical system that lacks a complete set of formal interface agreements for Year 2000 compliance.
* Funds will not be obligated for any contract for an IT system or national security system that does not meet Year 2000 requirements as contained in the Federal Acquisition Regulation.
* Funds will not be obligated for any domain user in a Defense Information Systems Agency megacenter if that domain user has failed to sign "explicit'' test agreements with DISA.
Cohen said he intends to take a "hard look'' at progress on Year 2000 remediation in November and December, warning, "If we are still lagging behind, all further modifications to software, except those needed for Y2K remediation, will be prohibited after Jan. 1, 1999.'' When asked what the chances are that the Pentagon will impose such a moratorium, Curtis flatly told FCW in an interview last week that "it's about 100 percent. The moratorium should have been imposed earlier.''
When asked if the moratorium could delay work on such programs as the multibillion-dollar F-22 aircraft— billed by the Air Force as a computer with wings— Curtis said it could. He added that while not popular, the decisions being made are necessary. "I'm trying to get this fixed. I believe in what I'm doing,'' he said.
Curtis applauded the Year 2000 management change, saying it would give him and the department the resources needed to beat the ticking millennium clock, which he called "the No. 1 problem in the department.''
He noted that on the OMB quarterly report card of noncompliant systems— due for release within days— "there will be more systems'' from DOD than there were three months ago. At that time, the Pentagon reported that it had 1,556 systems that could not meet the OMB requirement that all such systems be fixed, tested and reinstalled by March 1999.
Curtis said the increase in noncompliant systems reflects more accurate reporting by the military services and agencies and a better overall assessment of the situation. Curtis said the services and Defense agencies still need to develop more "accuracy'' in their reporting, which he believes the Cohen memo will help achieve.
In his memo, Cohen zeroed in on the potential for problems in nuclear command and control systems, asking Gen. Eugene Habiger, commander in chief of the Strategic Command; the assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence; and the Joint Staff director of operations to provide not later than Sept. 15 "a detailed report on the Y2K compliance of the nuclear command and control system.'' Curtis said some nuclear C2 system are still "behind schedule'' for Year 2000 compliance, but he did not provide further details.
John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said Cohen's memo is an important signal that everyone should be paying attention to the Year 2000 problem.
"I was delighted to see it,'' Koskinen said. "People are establishing priorities. I think we're going to find in agencies with significant problems that they will need to postpone or pose a moratorium on some activities that interfere with getting Y2K work done.''
Koskinen said he is not surprised that DOD is expected to report an increase in its mission-critical systems. He said the feedback should be encouraged so that the most accurate information is reported.
"I'm more suspicious when a large agency doesn't reclassify [its] systems,'' Koskinen said. "It's not that someone made an error; you get enough information to make better judgments. We are to reward people who bring that to our attention. We need the most up-to-date information. If people grumble at the errors, then we're not going to get that feedback.''
None of the military service secretariats responded to requests for comments on the Cohen memo, with one spokesman saying, "This is so complex and so high-level [that] it will take some time to get high-level leadership to respond.'' Adm. John Gauss, director of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said he agrees that the Year 2000 issue "requires aggressive management attention. At this time, I believe Spawar is in good shape because we have had an aggressive Y2K program and [have] taken management actions similar [to those outlined in the Cohen memo] to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.''
Ed Brasseur, chief information officer at the Army Materiel Command, said the moratorium could possibly affect big-ticket programs managed by AMC, such as the Commanche advanced scout helicopter program. "It could affect all our programs,'' Brasseur said. He added that AMC has responsibility for 85 percent of the Army's embedded and information technology systems, "meaning we are the biggest part of the Army solution and the biggest part of the problem.'' Brasseur concurred with estimates that the number of systems on the OMB noncompliance list will increase in the next quarterly report, saying that increase will be a reflection of tougher reporting requirements.
AMC already devotes top management attention to the Year 2000 problem and will continue to do so, Brasseur said, with AMC commander Gen. Johnny Wilson receiving monthly reports. The Defense Logistics Agency, in a statement, said that it "plans to take all steps necessary to comply with the...Year 2000 memo.''
One industry source predicted that if Cohen imposes the software moratorium, it will have a direct impact on industry. "People are going to lose their jobs as a result of the moratorium,'' this source said, because the only software work available will be for Year 2000 remediation.
Olga Grkavac, senior vice president of the Systems Integration Division at the Information Technology Association of America, said that if imposed, the moratorium will be the result of DOD's refusal to devote high-level attention to the issue early on. "We warned them about this because we feared in 1999 [software] funding would be geared only to Y2K development...and this is not something that will go away in 1999. It's a problem we will face well into the Year 2000 and beyond.''
Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., called the Cohen memo "both Draconian and necessary.... This is the only kind of language DOD understands.'' Dornan could not put a dollar value on the software work at risk if the moratorium were imposed, but he did say that in 1997 the Pentagon's IT budget showed that more than $3 billion was spent on outside support and services, including software support.
Despite the sweeping nature of the Cohen memo, Curtis believes it was absolutely necessary. "We now have a level and intensity of interest that will make a magnitude of difference,'' Curtis said.