Local Government and the Year 2000

The political drama in Washington, D.C., in the past few months stands in stark contrast to the atmosphere at the other end of the representative spectrum these days. While Congress decides on the removal of a president, local governments are more likely to be busy with snow removal, traffic management, crime fighting or any number of problems related to promoting the general welfare.

Of course, near the top of the list in the months ahead will be how local governments react to the inevitable service failures caused by the Year 2000 software problem. As our cover story shows, with only a year left to go, most local governments that have been on top of the Year 2000 technology problem have now shifted their strategies a bit. While most are still fixing and testing software, they also are preparing contingency plans for what to do if and when traffic signals go out, train trestles don't work or water purification systems go on the blink. It's time to sort out all the what-ifs.

How communities react to the Year 2000 crisis will not only be a test of the efficiency and organization of local governments and their officers but of the cohesiveness of individual communities. Even communities with good software testing and well-thought-out contingency plans will have to have a good foundation for successful disaster recovery. That points to some of the intangibles of civic health: a sense of partnership between public- and private-sector citizens, trust in the abilities of elected officials to be successful and make good decisions, and good operating bonds among all the social and economic spheres of the community.

So in many ways, the Year 2000 problem will be a test of-or at least a commentary on-the health of your community. For those who have not started thinking about contingency planning, we hope this story helps you plan your what-ifs and maybe even jogs your thinking on how some of those intangibles may help get you through this problem and others.

For those of you working with local and state governments that are shopping for Year 2000 testing tools, this issue of civic.com also contains some pointers on how to sort through the welter of solutions available to you. As usual, there is a tool or a suite of tools for every software environment. And as the story points out, how to choose among them will have as much to do with the approach you have taken with your Year 2000 remediation as with how the tools themselves function.

In this issue we introduce a new feature of civic.com: In our Buying Strategies story on Page 28, we analyze Pennsylvania's decision to standardize desktop software on a single vendor. In the future, we will use the column to cover other methods and tactics that state and local governments are using to improve the value of products and services they receive from vendors. We hope this column will inspire you to think of other ways to maximize the value you are receiving. We'd love to pass those ideas along to your peers in other jurisdictions throughout the country.

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