OMB stresses Y2K contingencies

Acknowledging that most of the federal government's mission-critical computer systems will be ready for the Year 2000, the Office of Management and Budget has shifted its Year 2000 oversight focus to just a few systems and to agencies' contingency plans, according to the latest quarterly report on agencies' Year 2000 progress.

In its ninth quarterly report, released last week, OMB states that as of May 14 most agencies had completed overall work on 93 percent of 6,190 mission-critical systems, with 14 of the 24 agencies OMB tracks reporting that all of their mission-critical systems were compliant. OMB did not rank the agencies based on the percentage of mission-critical systems that have been fixed, as it had done before.

"Agency progress to ensure that mission-critical systems are ready for the Year 2000 continues to be strong," said Deidre Lee, acting deputy director for management at OMB.

In the report, OMB shifts its focus from tracking the Year 2000 compliance of all mission-critical systems to individual systems that still are not compliant at 10 agencies, including the Laboratory Information Management System at the Agriculture Department, the Debt Management System at the Justice Department and the air traffic control system at the Federal Aviation Administration.

The air traffic control system is expected to be compliant by June 30. "It's looking very good," said Drucie Anderson, the FAA's deputy assistant administrator for public affairs. "We feel very comfortable with our deadline."

OMB also has turned its attention to business continuity and contingency plans, which agencies were required to submit by June 15. OMB expects to provide details about the backup plans in its next quarterly report.

But Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), the House's primary watchdog on agencies' Year 2000 compliance, said most agencies have not completed contingency plans. "We found that 70 percent of these contingency plans are still in progress,'' he said.

Horn, chairman of the House Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee, last week released his eighth report card on the government's Year 2000 remediation efforts.

Horn agreed that the federal government has made significant improvement and gave the Clinton administration an overall grade of B-minus. Last quarter, the administration received a C-plus.

Like Horn, OMB shifted its attention to the Year 2000 compliance of systems that support 43 federal and social programs such as the Child Welfare Program and Medical Assistance Program. Horn said that of the systems that support the 43 programs, only two - Social Security benefits and the National Weather Service programs - are ready for Jan. 1.

"We will continue to monitor these programs in our quarterly report cards," Horn said. "Each one involves a host of public- and private-sector partners, from vendors and suppliers to state and local governments. Several of them are not scheduled to be ready until December."

OMB officials expect to meet with the Small Agency Council to discuss Year 2000 progress at small and independent agencies. While 35 of the 46 small and independent agencies have made significant progress, OMB reports that too many are behind on Year 2000 progress compared with the large agencies.

OMB estimates that the federal government will have spent $8.05 billion fixing the computer problem from fiscal 1996 through fiscal 2000, up from the $6.75 billion reported in February. The increase largely is the result of a $1.05 billion increase for Defense Department fixes.

Joel Willemssen, who follows Year 2000 government issues for the General Accounting Office and has been critical of the government's effort to fix computers, said the OMB report is encouraging. "Overall, I remain more optimistic where the federal government stands now than where it use to be," said Willemssen, director of Civil Agencies Information Systems for the Accounting and Information Management Division at GAO. "However, I think the information of the 43 high-impact programs clearly indicates that there is more work to be done."

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