OMB saddles feds with state Y2K data links

The Office of Management and Budget this week is expected to issue a memo directing federal agencies to take the lead role in making sure that social services programs will not be interrupted because of Year 2000 computer problems in state government systems.

In the memo to agency heads, OMB Director Jacob Lew will ask federal agencies to list the social services programs that fall under their responsibility and then meet with state officials to conduct testing and develop contingency plans and according to Kathy Adams, assistant deputy commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration and chairwoman of the Year 2000 Committee of the CIO Council.

Additionally, federal agencies will be required to produce quarterly reports on their progress with states, providing updates on their testing schedules and contingency plans, Adams said.

"I think [working with the states] is the next logical step because we've been very focused on federal," she said. "Each agency will have to take ownership of making certain the services are delivered."

The memo follows the release last week of OMB's eighth quarterly Year 2000 progress report. According to the report, the administration is concerned that the federal government's efforts to fix agency systems may be undermined because the states, which supply data to federal systems, are behind in making Year 2000 fixes.

SSA is among the seven agencies that have achieved Year 2000 compliance with all state interfaces, according to the OMB report. The other agencies are the Commerce Department, the General Services Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Personnel Management.

The report calls for agencies to work with their state partners to test state computer systems that supply data to federal agencies for managing food stamps, child welfare, unemployment insurance and 37 other federal programs. The report also calls for agencies to develop plans for providing services even if the systems fail.

Ed DeSeve, OMB's deputy director for management, said in a statement released last week that OMB will focus on the overall readiness of mission-critical federal programs that are administered at the state level.

"We are committed to continuing our work with the states and with our private-sector partners for service delivery, especially in areas where they are projecting late 1999 target dates for completion of Y2K work,'' DeSeve said.

While almost all the states are making progress on their side of the data exchanges, Illinois, Oklahoma and the six U.S. territories have not informed the Clinton administration about their Year 2000 progress, according to the OMB report.

Keith Johnson, state comptroller and vice chairman of the governor's Year 2000 task force in Oklahoma, said his state intends to work more closely with OMB.

"There's no real intent why we didn't share information," he said. "We were just focused on some of our own issues.... We certainly want them to know that we are ahead of the game."

Anne Reed, chief information officer at the Agriculture Department, said her agency is supportive of OMB's request and is working aggressively to ensure progress. Among other programs, the USDA exchanges data with states in the operation of the food stamp program.

"The bottom line is that we can't deliver our programs if the data exchanges are not compliant," Reed said. "That means that we make sure we know what the states are doing and begin developing contingency plans."

Steve Kolodney, director for the Department of Information Services in Washington state and a chairman of the Year 2000 committee for the National Association of State Information Resource Executives, said the federal government should take the lead in making sure the exchanges are Year 2000-ready because it initiates data exchanges. "NASIRE has worked closely with federal agencies to provide the points of contact for data exchanges. Now it's the federal programs' responsibility to make certain the points of contacts are used effectively."

In the end, however, the federal government may have only limited impact on state Year 2000 initiatives. John Kelly, chief information officer for Arizona, said the effectiveness of the oversight will depend on how federal agencies define their roles as leaders.

"If agencies interpret leadership in terms of telling states what to do and how to do it, that will not be effective," he said. "But if states want to define leadership in the spirit of partnership, developing continuity and contingency plans, I think that's appropriate."

Nancy-Ann DeParle, administrator for the Health Care Financing Administration, said in a statement to a House committee last month that she is concerned with states' progress in Year 2000 fixes, but she can do little to help them. HCFA has contracts with more than 60 intermediaries, such as insurance companies, to process some $250 billion worth of claims and medical bills for the Medicare health program for the elderly.

DeParle said some states may not meet the Year 2000 deadline. The assistance HCFA is providing to states, such as hiring a contractor to visit each state and validate its Year 2000 progress, likely will not be enough, she said.

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