USPS can't promise mail delivery won't encounter Y2K bugs

The U.S. Postal Service's top technology officer told a House panel today that he could not promise that the agency will not encounter Year 2000 problems in its computer systems that would disrupt mail delivery next year.

USPS officials said they have a "reasonable level of assurance" that the agency will be able to deliver the mail into the new millennium, but Norman Lorentz, chief technology officer at USPS, told a joint hearing, "I can't promise that there will be no problems, but we remain confident that with the continued hard work of everyone involved...we will achieve our goals of delivering the mail, protecting our employees and protecting our finances."

The hearing was held by the House Government Reform Committee's Postal Service Subcommittee and its Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee and the Science Committee's Technology Subcommittee.

However, USPS is running behind the Office of Management and Budget's schedule for system renovation, according to Jack Brock Jr., director of Governmentwide and Defense Information Systems, in the General Accounting Office's Accounting and Information Management Division.

USPS still must address "major issues to complete system and mail processing equipment correction and testing, ensure the readiness of hundreds of local facilities, and determine the ability of key suppliers and interface partners to be Year 2000-ready," Brock said in his written testimony. He added that USPS should increase its focus on contingency planning.

Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif) asked USPS to submit within one week a master contingency plan that would take into consideration all systems in the agency and lay out what USPS would do in case of computer failures.

"You are making progress, but still have a long way to go in a short period," Horn said.

Horn said that among all federal agencies it is particularly important USPS be Year 2000-compliant because many federal agencies and businesses plan to use hand-delivered mail in case electronic systems fail.

USPS said it will spend a total of $607 million to fix the Year 2000 problem. It recently reported that 70 percent of its 156 mission-critical systems are now compliant.

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