GAO circulates draft Y2K testing guide

The General Accounting Office this summer began warning federal agencies to approach Year 2000 testing with extreme coordination and discipline to ensure that federal computer systems work properly at the turn of the century.

As many agencies move closer to testing rewritten computer date code, GAO began circulating in June a draft guide that recommends a five-step approach to testing: infrastructure testing, software unit testing, software integration testing, system acceptance testing and end-to-end testing. GAO also recommends the testing be supported by intense management.

The draft guide, "Year 2000 Computing Crisis: a Testing Guide," underscores the importance of what GAO and other Year 2000 experts believe is the most crucial, time-consuming and costly step in making sure computers can properly process dates after 1999. "I think some agencies will have great difficulty with testing, and many will succeed," said Bert

Concklin, president of the Professional Services Council. "Testing is unequivocally the most important aspect of Year 2000 fixing."

Rona Stillman, GAO's chief scientist for computers and telecommunications, said the guide does not promote a particular solution for testing because agencies' needs are different and there is no single guaranteed way to correct the management of what is considered to be the largest managerial undertaking in the history of the federal government.

"It's like sweeping the freeway with a toothbrush,'' Stillman said. "Organizations should do testing with care.''

Concklin said the guide, even in its draft form, is an "excellent document'' and is "fully usable'' for agencies to adopt during their Year 2000 testing.

"Testing is ultimately imperative for success,'' Concklin said. "Any agency not using the level of discipline and precision detailed in this plan or the equivalent will be fools. To be sufficient, you've got to have a hard-nosed, detailed, penetrating and unforgiving test plan.''

Nancy Peters, vice president for Year 2000 sales and marketing for CACI Inc., said that it is unrealistic to believe agencies can become Year 2000-compliant with less than 16 months before 2000.

"The problem is timing," Peters said. "As pure and as well done as [the guide] is, it is doing it by the book, but also we're at a deadline. In the time frame that agencies have left, I don't think agencies will get through all this.''

Peters said agencies need "innovative shortcuts" for testing. "That doesn't mean you want to ignore doing a quality job,'' she said. "We need to think of effective shortcuts that won't hurt us.

Stillman said a final copy of the report will be released in several months and will be similar to the draft.

The guide recommends that the first level of testing involve the infrastructure— establishing the method or process the organization will need to guide, support and manage the next four levels of testing. The first level includes allocating resources, establishing schedules and formulating a plan.

The other four levels provide processes that focus on testing software and system components that the organization is directly responsible for developing, acquiring or maintaining.

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