Federal Y2K czar defends upbeat outlook

John Koskinen, the federal Year 2000 czar who uniformly downplays millennium doomsday scenarios, today gave a group of information technology vendors some insight into why he is more upbeat about the federal government's Year 2000 readiness than Congress, government watchdog groups and federal inspectors general.

Koskinen told a group of vendors attending a breakfast meeting held by Federal Sources Inc., a federal marketing firm in McLean, Va., that the roles of the congressional oversight committees and the General Accounting Office are to look at the weak spots in a government program or initiative, not to emphasize the positives. The auditor's role is "to continue to focus on where the risks are," he said.

For the past year, Koskinen has steadfastly contended in the face of negative reports that the federal government and the private sector would be ready for the new millennium and that few problems will occur because of computer malfunctions. Koskinen delivered the same message to Congress last month.

But Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology and a close follower of agencies' Year 2000 readiness, has consistently given several agencies poor grades on their Year 2000 progress. The Defense Department's inspector general released over the past few months reports claiming fixes to DOD systems were far behind schedule and threatened national security. GAO repeatedly has stated in reports that numerous agencies' mission-critical systems will not be ready for the millennium, and members of Congress also have voiced their concerns that federal systems will fail in 2000.

But Koskinen said at the meeting that it is GAO's job to be critical until the end, even if progress is being made. Koskinen said he told Joel Willemssen, director of civil agencies information systems at GAO and author of numerous negative reports on agencies' Year 2000 readiness, that a recent GAO report concluding that the Federal Aviation Administration was still behind in its Year 2000 testing phase was unfair. "It was more negative than I thought appropriate," he said.

At the meeting, Koskinen repeated his past statements that the majority of government systems will be fixed by the March 31 deadline that the Clinton administration has set for agencies to have all their mission-critical computer systems fixed, tested and reinstalled.

Koskinen said federal agencies that have reportedly lagged in their Year 2000 computer problem—such as DOD, the Health Care Financing Administration, the FAA and the Energy Department—will have most of their systems fixed by next month, and all of the systems will be fixed by year's end.

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