GSA plans to boost Y2K vendor database

It is never too late to deal with the Year 2000 issue. That is the message the General Services Administration wants to get out to federal agencies and commercial vendors.

The GSA's Office of Information Technology and the CIO Council's Year 2000 Committee have worked together to create a database of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) Year 2000 solutions for the federal government. The resulting World Wide Web site and database are intended to serve as a clearinghouse of Year 2000 issues, solutions and policies for the government.

In November, GSA plans to sponsor the Y2K Pavilion at Comdex, one of the largest information technology trade shows of the year. GSA also plans to staff its own booth, where it will demonstrate the Web site and database. GSA will try to persuade vendors to join the database and provide more options to agencies trying to meet the Year 2000 deadline.

"When we became aware of the Comdex trade show and the Year 2000 Pavilion, we felt that would be a wonderful opportunity" to market the Year 2000 database and sign up companies that could help federal agencies facing Year 2000 problems, said John Clark, senior policy analyst at the Year 2000 and IT Issues Division of the Office of Information Technology.

More than 200,000 IT professionals attend Comdex yearly, and almost 15,000 of those are connected to the government, Comdex officials said.

"GSA's doing everything it can to promote awareness of Y2K.... But at this point, you don't want to talk about awareness, you want to talk about risk management," said Olga Grkavac, senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Systems Integration Division. "Everything they can do to increase agencies' options is very helpful."

Grkavac praised the idea of bringing more vendors into the database but noted the pitfalls in offering general Year 2000 solutions. "On the surface it sounds so helpful, but there are legal considerations," she said. The ITAA alone has noted almost 15 lawsuits pending against companies offering Year 2000 solutions.

Several bills Congress is working on— including President Clinton's Year 2000 Information Disclosure Act, which is also referred to as the "Good Samaritan bill"— are intended to encourage organizations to share information about their efforts to fix the Year 2000 problem by shielding them from litigation.Some agencies, worried about lawsuits and whether a solution will work, may prevent them from using COTS solutions, Clark and Grkavac said.

Grkavac pointed out that many of the vendors in the database have not been used as much as they thought they would because agencies have preferred to develop their own in-house solution.

"That may be part of the reason," Clark said. "If the legislation is passed, such as the Good Samaritan bill, it may improve the use of our database."

However, he said, "This is a problem that's not going to go away; it's got a fixed deadline." Agencies must find a solution they can use, but they must accept some compromise.

"We really don't expect bug-free programs," Clark said. Vendors provide self-certification of their solutions that are in the database, and agencies who have used them will often provide testing results for other agencies to view, he said.


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