With new Y2K grade, State feels vindicated

Critics predicted early on that the State Department, one of the agencies that was considered woefully behind in its Year 2000 efforts, would not have all of its critical computer systems fixed until 2034.

The General Accounting Office, for example, reported last year that "State's progress in responding to the problem has been slow." And in February, State received a failing grade from Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), a former professor who issues report cards that evaluate federal agencies on their Year 2000 efforts. Horn projected a 2034 completion date in a report last November.

But Fernando Burbano, chief information officer at State, and David Ames, State's deputy CIO for Year 2000, say they have proven the critics wrong. The department recently announced that all 59 of its critical systems have been renovated, tested and reinstalled for the new millennium.

"I consider that a vindication," Ames said.

Some of State's critics support the department's claims. Last month, Horn gave State an A-minus on its Year 2000 efforts. Of the 24 major agencies and departments that the congressman has evaluated since 1996, State is the only agency that has risen from failing status to excellent, according to the House's Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee, chaired by Horn.

"It is amazing what can be done when the proper resources and attention are directed toward a goal," Horn said. "The State Department's burst of activity is a good example of what I've said all along: The Year 2000 computer problem is much more of a management problem than a technology problem."

Burbano said State's turnaround can be attributed to a number of factors, including:

Financial support from senior management.

Moratoriums on some information technology projects to devote resources to address the Year 2000 computer problem.

Comprehensive testing and retesting that included the department's inspector general and independent contractors.

A series of coordination meetings from the department's Year 2000 staff, which represented various branch offices.

"I took stuff home to read over the weekend," Burbano said. "We've been very hard on ourselves."

For example, State is working with the federal government's newly formed Year 2000 Information Coordination Center to collect information on Year 2000 computer problems domestically and internationally and then distribute it to the right people to coordinate an emergency response if necessary.

State, working with the Defense Department, will head up the international efforts, collecting Year 2000 information from embassies and posts in at least 190 countries.

State will use an intranet to transmit sensitive but unclassified information from these countries, while using a secure DOD network for sending classified information.

"We will gather the information in our Y2K Information Cell, put it into a database, display it on a global map system and then pass it to the Y2K Working Group [in the State Department]," Ames said. "The Y2K Working Group will look at the raw data, add some analysis with it and pass it to the Y2K Information Coordination Center."

Burbano and Ames said the agency has spent about $185 million making Year 2000 fixes,but insisted that the money has been well spent. "We don't expect any catastrophic problems [at State]," Burbano said.

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