GAO concludes State's Y2K fix moving too slowly

The General Accounting Office last month warned the State Department that it is moving too slowly to fix computers for the Year 2000 bug and needs to improve its management to meet the deadline.

In a report released last month, GAO encouraged State to reassess all its systems, ensure that mission-critical systems receive priority attention, focus its contingency planning efforts on the core business functions and supporting systems, and ensure that the department's bureaus have identified and corrected interfaces.

State relies on a variety of information systems and networks to help it carry out its responsibilities and support business functions, such as financial management, medical assistance, visa and passport issuance, diplomatic agreements and communications, and personnel.

According to the report, "Year 2000 Computing Crisis: State Department Needs to Make Fundamental Improvements to Its Year 2000 Program,'' the department supports its systems on a variety of hardware platforms, most of which are not Year 2000-compliant and will need to be fixed.

"State has taken many positive actions to increase awareness, promote sharing of information and encourage its bureaus to make Year 2000 remediation efforts a high priority,'' according to the report. "However, State's progress in responding to the problems has been slow.''

For example, of the 40 systems that State identified as mission-critical and needing either converting or replacing, only 17, or about 42.5 percent, have been completely renovated, according to the report.

Improving System Classification

John Deferrari, assistant director of GAO's Accounting and Information Management Division, said State's process for prioritizing what computer systems to fix is flawed because it provides no means of distinguishing between computer systems that are essential to the agency's core mission and those that are not.

For instance, Deferrari said State ranked REGIS, a system designed to register and track students who attend the Foreign Service Institute, as a priority along with the MSE Network, a system used to sort and track unclassified mail and parcels.

"Clearly REGIS is much more important to State's core mission than MSE,'' Deferrari said. "Top management has to determine what's most important. State let its bureaus determine what is mission-critical but [has not] prioritized from the top.''

Kathleen Charles, acting chief financial officer for State, said the GAO report is "informative,'' "thorough'' and "provides a fair assessment.''

However, Charles said State has made some significant strides in meeting the Year 2000 challenge over the years, such as hiring KPMG Peat Marwick as a consultant and adviser.

"One of the first tasks accomplished by KPMG was to independently identify opportunities to improve the management of the Year 2000 challenge at both" State headquarters and its satellite offices, Charles said.

"In many instances, specific concerns raised by the GAO were independently identified by KPMG,'' he added.

Since the GAO audit, Charles said State has taken concrete measures to improve its Year 2000 efforts. For example, the department has placed emphasis on the Year 2000 challenge by holding top-level managers, such as the undersecretary for management and the chief information officer, accountable for fixes.

Also, Charles said State enhanced its management by implementing a new Year 2000 infrastructure to collect, analyze, track and report the status of mission-critical system remediation.

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