Feds, states team on Y2K backup plans

The Clinton administration announced last week that it will develop contingency plans with states to keep federal/state social programs operational in case state-run computers fail because of the Year 2000 computer problem.

John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, told a group of state technology leaders attending a National Governors' Association meeting in Washington, D.C., that a committee will develop the backup plans so that members of the public can continue to receive food stamps and health care payments if interfaces between federal and state computer systems malfunction at the turn of the century.

Federal and state leaders say they expect all federal interfaces at the state level to function properly before Jan. 1, 2000, and do not anticipate major problems. But they agreed to create a contingency plan.

"The public doesn't care if the computer systems are compliant or not,'' Koskinen said. "What the people want to know is if they will receive their benefits, Medicaid and child care assistance.''

Koskinen said about 165 federal interfaces with state systems have been identified, although the number could slightly increase as more systems are discovered. Emphasis is on 40 mission-critical services such as food stamps, Medicaid and job training, most of which are administered at the state level and tracked by the federal government through computer interfaces with states, Koskinen said.

In addition to developing contingency plans, Koskinen said comprehensive end-to-end testing will be conducted at the federal and state levels to make certain that interface systems are able to sustain the 40 major welfare assistance programs from the first time data is keyed into a state or local system to the point where it is manipulated and stored for the last time in a federal system. Mike Benzen, the chief information officer of Missouri, said planning for disruptions is appropriate, particularly if it will protect from failure programs that could dramatically affect people's lives.

Benzen, who also is president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives, said more than 65 percent of the mission-critical federal interfaces are compliant, and all should be fixed by year-end. He said some states are behind others, but he is confident all will be compliant by Dec. 31.

"States don't get a cookie if they finish in April or if they finish in December,'' Benzen said. "The bottom line is that they finish by deadline. This is not a race.''

Benzen said many of the federal services can be delivered in a timely manner only by electronic means. In Missouri, for example, Benzen said his state could not run the Medicaid program manually if the system broke down, which adds to the importance of backup plans.

"We would have to hire 500 to 1,000 clerks, and I don't think the work force can offer us that kind of support,'' Benzen said. "We fixed our Medicaid systems last year to make certain they are running.... It would be better to fix the systems rather than run the program manually.''

John Kelly, chief information officer of Arizona, said a backup plan is needed even if states are confident that 100 percent of their federal interfaces are compliant. Kelly said federal and state officials need to make certain that their contingency plans are congruent.

"This is less about technology and more about management," Kelly said. "No one cares about those interface systems. The public is concerned with what services those interfaces have. The social service programs totally depend on consistent flow of federal funds.''

In its quarterly report to be released this week, the Office of Management and Budget is expected to include information on the 165 state systems that interface with federal programs. In its final quarterly report, due out in June, OMB will include an overall status report of the federal mission-critical services administered by state systems, Koskinen said. Koskinen wants the public to know exactly how federal and state governments are progressing with their Year 2000 efforts.

Koskinen said his biggest concern is that the public will put a strain on the infrastructure because of misinformation. He told state leaders to inform the public about their Year 2000 progress whenever there is an opportunity.

"Our remaining challenge is to get the public to understand that there are some things we don't need to worry about,'' Koskinen said. "There are going to be some glitches that are manageable. But the world will not end as we know it.''


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