State: Y2K threatens E. Europe

A State Department official last week pinpointed Eastern Europe as a potential high-risk area for Year 2000 problems and told members of Congress that the department has its own Year 2000 problems fairly well fixed.

John O'Keefe, special representative for the Year 2000 problem at State, said the "fragile" power grid in Eastern Europe could be a source of Year 2000-related problems in that region.

O'Keefe told a joint hearing of the House Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee and the House Technology Subcommittee, both of which have been looking into the Year 2000 problem, that State officials are most concerned with regions of the world that will experience a strong winter during the Jan. 1, 2000 rollover.

Congressional leaders held the hearing to address concerns Americans abroad may have about the date change. "We are not here today to take countries to task for their poor performance in solving their Year 2000 computer problems," said Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee. "Rather, we want to provide the traveling public with information on the potential problems that could occur abroad."

State officials earlier in the week released a series of reports, posted at travel.state.gov, intended to outline potential Year 2000 problems in foreign nations. But officials were reluctant to single out any region or country considered most at risk for Year 2000 problems. "We don't feel we should do an analysis between country and country," said Kevin Herbert, managing director for overseas citizens services within the Bureau of Consular Affairs, at a press briefing last Tuesday.

Critics including Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, said the information contained "boilerplate language, making it difficult to discern the difference in Y2K readiness between well-prepared and unprepared countries."

One staff member of the House Government Reform Committee called the reports "vanilla" but said information on nations such as China, Russia and Italy indicate that they are at risk of some of the most serious problems associated with the Year 2000 such as electrical and other utility outages and failures in the transportation and financial sectors.

The State Department reports—included in a set of revised "consular information sheets," which offer international travelers advice on everything from a country's road conditions to its crime activity—cover more than 100 nations. None of the reports, however, issues a travel warning encouraging U.S. citizens to avoid a nation because of Year 2000 problems.

The reports also explain the Federal Aviation Administration's efforts to work with foreign countries to address their aviation-related Year 2000 problems.

O'Keefe also told congressmen that he believed State and U.S. missions abroad were well prepared for the Year 2000 problem. He said a recent worldwide data-sharing test on Sept. 9 did not indicate any problems. "Our own house is largely in order," he said.

"I feel a lot better about [Year 2000 preparation]," Horn said. "They [executive branch officials] have done a good job since April of 1998 when they got Mr. [John] Koskinen in there." Koskinen chairs the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

***China:"Although China continues remediation efforts and contingency planning, at the present time it appears there may be a risk of potential disruption in the key sectors of banking and finance, telecommunications, and medical services, and in the electrical power and infrastructure systems outside of the coastal cities."

Russia:"...Y2K disruptions are likely to occur in the key sectors of electrical power, heat, telecommunications, transportation and financial and emergency services .... Americans planning travel to Russia...should take fully into account the information in this document and plan their travel and its timing accordingly."

Italy:"Italy will lower the risks of potential Y2K disruptions with greater progress in remediation and contingency planning, particularly in the fields of health care, telecommunications and, to a lesser extent, transportation."

Japan:"Japan's most recent progress report indicates that Y2K readiness in the medical sector lags behind other key sector.... U.S. citizens with special medical needs should take appropriate precautions."

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