Koskinen: Feds OK on Y2K

Despite concerns that the Year 2000 computer bug could bring down some federal government computer systems, President Clinton's Year 2000 czar last week told Congress that he is confident all mission-critical systems will be ready for the new millennium.

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, told a joint House committee hearing that even those agencies that reportedly have lagged in fixing their computers for the Year 2000, such as the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration, will be ready by the end of 1999.

Testifying before a joint hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform and the House Science Committee, Koskinen said he supports DOD's recent claims that the department will have its 2,304 mission-critical systems fixed, tested and reinstalled by Dec. 31. DOD officials this month held a press briefing to announce that most of its systems will be ready by March, and all of them will be ready by Dec. 31.

Koskinen agreed that DOD should have 90 percent of its systems fixed by March 31, which is the deadline that the Office of Management and Budget had set for all federal agencies to have their systems Year 2000-compliant. For the federal government overall, Koskinen said more than 80 percent of the mission-critical systems should be compliant by OMB's March deadline.

Nevertheless, Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, is skeptical that DOD will be ready for the millennium. "I remain deeply concerned about the Department of Defense,'' Horn said.

Horn, who grades federal agencies in fixing Year 2000 problems, gave the Pentagon a D-minus for its Year 2000 efforts in November. Horn is expected to discuss in more detail DOD's Year 2000 efforts at an upcoming hearing The time and date have not been determined.

Koskinen said the Health Care Financing Administration, which manages Medicare also should be ready by the end of the year. HCFA has been criticized for its lack of Year 2000 progress, especially for not adequately ensuring the compliance of the computer systems operated by the dozens of contractors that process Medicare bills and payments. Most Medicare contractors are expected to meet the March 31 deadline, Koskinen said, but he did not say how many contractors would be compliant.

"As of today, we have completed the renovation, testing and validation of all of HCFA's mission-critical internal systems and have made significant progress with our carriers and intermediaries," HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann DeParle said in a statement. "The Medicare program will be ready, and individual providers must be ready too.''

A HCFA spokesman said about 70 percent of the 78 external systems, which include contractors that process Medicare bills and payments, are ready.

But in a report released at the joint hearing about ongoing Year 2000 problems on the federal level, GAO again said it is highly unlikely that all of the Medicare systems would be compliant in time to ensure the delivery of uninterrupted benefits and services in 2000.

Koskinen said he is "confident that the air traffic control system will be totally compliant well in advance of the Year 2000." Congress and the General Accounting Office have often mentioned in reports the FAA as one agency that had not made Year 2000 fixes fast enough to avert potential dangers in the air traffic control system.

Joel Willemssen, director of civil agencies information systems at GAO, disagreed with Koskinen. "I am not optimistic that [the FAA] will be compliant well in advance," he said. The air traffic control system has a lot of systems that are still at risk of missing the deadline because the FAA got such a late start in fixing them, he said.

Paul Takemoto, an FAA Year 2000 spokesman, said the FAA will not meet the March 31 deadline but will have all of its systems tested, validated and reinstalled by June 30, 1999. "The reason for the three-month delay is because of the complexity of our systems that are at every air traffic control [center] throughout the country,'' Takemoto said.

Koskinen told Horn that he did not foresee any need for new legislation to help the federal government meet the Year 2000 deadline. He said the $3.25 billion emergency funding for Year 2000 that Congress passed last year "has been a tremendous help."

But Olga Grkavac, senior vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division, said no one really knows if federal mission-critical systems are fixed because there still has not been enough end-to-end testing and independent auditing.

"Everybody hopes that Koskinen is right,'' Grkavac said. "But I am hearing that every agency is having problems meeting the March 31 deadline. The March deadline is very important because there isn't much time after that to see what the glitches are. There's not enough information to know [if systems at agencies will be fixed by Jan. 1, 2000]. All you can do is guess.''

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