Y2K fixes lag in federal grant computer system

The Department of Health and Human Services' top information technology executive told Congress today that the agency's electronic payment system, which processes about $170 billion a year in federal grants, should be Year 2000-compliant by June, but the general Accounting Office is skeptical the system will be ready by then.

John Callahan, HHS' chief information officer, told the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology that the department's Payment Management System (PMS) should be compliant by June. Developed more than 30 years ago, PMS is a centralized electronic funding and cash management service that pays most federal assistance grants, block grants and contracts to more than 20,000 recipients. HHS' Payment Management Program Support Center operates the system.

"We are very confident that [PMS] will be fully compliant as of June of this year," said Callahan, who also is assistant secretary for management and budget at HHS. He added that HHS plans to replace PMS with a new payment system.

Joel Willemsson, director of civil agencies information systems at GAO, told the committee that it is unclear when PMS will be Year 2000-compliant. Willemsson said the PMS replacement system also has development problems. For example, Willemsson said portions of the development strategy are at risk because of difficulties in importing databases from the existing PMS to databases in the new PMS.Callahan said he will provide GAO with documents that will provide some answers to GAO's criticisms.

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