DOD is right to sit out Y2K

Although it may seem callous, the Defense Department's formal dictum this month that it would not help cities and counties if the Year 2000 bug caused widespread havoc or food and water shortages is the right decision.

It is easy to react to DOD's decision, spelled out in a message sent to all the armed forces by the Army's Director of Military Support, as yet another example of a government agency not coming to the aid of its citizens. After all, don't Americans' taxes support the military? Why then shouldn't it help in a time of domestic crisis?

DOD's mission is contained in the oath every man and woman who enters military service must take. They solemnly swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic." As far as DOD is concerned, the Year 2000 problem becomes an enemy only if nation-states or terrorists use it as an opportunity to attack U.S. interests. Certainly, the Year 2000 problem presents a domestic threat that could cause serious social problems. But it clearly is not a domestic enemy.

Congress has created other agencies or assigned disaster-relief responsibilities to agencies to respond to these threats. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are just some examples. These agencies' missions clearly describe the domestic emergencies they must respond to, including any Year 2000 problems. It was not happenstance that the Clinton administration created the Year 2000 Information Coordination Center, which, come Dec. 31, will watch for Year 2000 mishaps worldwide.

Even many state and local information technology managers believe that DOD should step aside and allow local authorities to handle Year 2000 disasters, if they materialize. They say it is up to local civilian authorities to keep streets safe, while DOD's responsibility is to look outside U.S. borders. Of course, DOD has not completely ruled out offering a helping hand to its own in case of dire emergencies, but restraint is the better course to follow.

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