Y2K: 4 agencies critical

Four of the seven agencies that the Clinton administration identified this summer as critically behind in fixing key computer systems for the Year 2000 still have not made much progress and are in danger of missing the deadline for having systems fixed, according to some agency reports obtained by Federal Computer Week.

The departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have fixed slightly more than half of the computers that the agencies identified as critical to their missions, according to Year 2000 reports submitted to the Office of Management and Budget this month. The slow progress leaves the agencies far behind OMB's Sept. 30 deadline for having systems fixed and likely to miss the Jan. 31, 1999, deadline for testing the systems.

The agencies also fell short of the less strict 60 percent level that Congress has set as acceptable Year 2000 progress in meeting OMB's March 1999 deadline to have computer systems fixed, tested and reinstalled.

DOD, which has the largest number of mission-critical systems of any agency, has fixed 53 percent of its 2,581 mission-critical computer systems, according to the Year 2000 report that DOD submitted to OMB. DOE has fixed 50 percent of its 420 mission-critical systems, according to its most recent report, and HHS reported to OMB that 51 percent of its 289 mission-critical systems are Year 2000-compliant. USAID reported that of its seven mission-critical systems, only one, or 14 percent, is Year 2000-compliant.

OMB uses these reports, along with reports from 20 other agencies, to compile its quarterly reports on the government's progress in readying its computers for the Year 2000. Sources expect OMB to release its next report, the seventh since February 1997, after Thanksgiving. Other agencies that were on OMB's critical list, which it calls Tier One, were the departments of Transportation, State and Education.

G. Edward DeSeve, OMB's acting director for management, characterized the latest agency reports as mixed. "They are going reasonably well in most places," he said in a speech to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association last week.

The DOD report shows that in some cases DOD continues to fall further behind in its remediation efforts. The number of mission-critical systems that have fallen at least two months behind the internal DOD schedule for fixes increases from 51 to 65 systems when intelligence community systems are included. DOD reported two systems designed to control the incineration of chemical warfare agents at the Army's Tooele Depot, 20 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, will not be compliant until Oct. 30, 1999.

Art Money, DOD's senior civilian official told White House Year 2000 czar John Koskinen in a letter attached to the report that the "leading obstacles'' in resolving the Pentagon's Year 2000 problems include the "massive coordination'' effort required for an enterprise the size of DOD as well as "interfaces across agency or governmental boundaries.''

Echoing a point made by Defense Secretary William Cohen in August, Money raised the possibility of a moratorium on all other DOD IT programs. "It is recommended that programs to achieve Year 2000 compliance take priority over all other information technology initiatives until at least Jan. 1, 2001, even if this requires delaying or placing a temporary moratorium on other initiatives.''

The Health Care Financing Administration, which manages Medicare, is one of the HHS bureaus furthest behind in fixing its systems. HCFA has contracts with more than 60 insurance companies to process Medicare claims and medical bills, and there is concern on Capitol Hill that at least some Medicare contractors may fail to meet the March 1999 deadline.

"HCFA is a total disaster. It is poorly managed," said a congressional staff member who works on Year 2000 issues. "HCFA has as much chance of making the deadline as the [Washington] Redskins have of going to the Super Bowl. And that's being very kind.''

However, Gary Christoph, HCFA's chief information officer and Year 2000 coordinator, said he expects HCFA to make the OMB deadline, although HHS will probably remain on Tier One because of how OMB compiles its quarterly report. Christoph said OMB only counts systems that are 100 percent renovated and not systems in which fixes are partially done or even nearly completed.

Education, which has been on Tier One since OMB first began categorizing agencies in August 1997, may move off the critical list, having increased the percentage of its Year 2000-compliant systems from 50 percent in August to 64 percent now.

All but one of the agency's systems will be tested and installed by Jan. 31 , 1999. The last system, the Federal Family Education Loan System, will be completed by March.

- Bob Brewin contributed to this article.

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