GAO finds holes in Y2K efforts

With only about 60 days left until the new year, many agencies have not finalized plans for conducting business in the wake of Year 2000 problems, and at least one agency - the Internal Revenue Service - has yet to take an inventory of its computer equipment and software, which means the agency may have missed crucial systems that need fixing.

In testimony delivered Oct. 29 before a joint House hearing, federal officials said some agencies still must add details to the "business continuity and contingency plans" they will use if they encounter computer problems associated with the date rollover to 2000. In many cases, the plans outline a way for agencies to continue to conduct business if computers fail, including using labor-intensive manual, paper-based processes.

Joel Willemssen, director for civilian agencies systems at the General Accounting Office, said 40 percent of 23 federal agencies recently surveyed had completed all of the seven key areas that the Office of Management and Budget had requested them to address in forming contingency plans.

The areas include personnel on call or on duty; information technology contractor availability; security; communications with the public; a schedule of activities; communications with workers; and facilities and services to support workers.

Willemssen said lack of contingency plans could result in ineffective handling of Year 2000-related problems. "To the extent that that [detail] isn't there, we do run the risk of an untrained response," Willemssen said. He said an "ad hoc and chaotic" response "may not address the Y2K problem that has occurred."

"The most important focus for the agencies should be getting their plans, their detailed plans, ready," said John Spotila, administrator for OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Spotila, along with Willemssen, testified last week before the House Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee, which convened jointly with the House Science Committee's Technology Subcommittee.

Agencies' contingency plans should function as a last resort if computers fail, and many agencies have expressed confidence in having fixed systems to eliminate the Year 2000 problem.

"We do not anticipate a major failure," testified Paul Cosgrave, chief information officer for the IRS.

Yet the IRS has not completed an inventory of all its information technology, a key step in identifying systems that may be susceptible to Year 2000 problems.

Cosgrave said the agency's inventory of about 800,000 pieces of computer equipment and software is more than 90 percent accurate and that Year 2000 problems in the agency's major information systems have been fixed. He said the IRS continues to conduct a "wall to wall" inventory of its IT holdings and plans inventory audits as well as verification of computer inventories by an independent organization.

"While we have been comforted by the actions of the great majority of federal agencies, unfortunately with just 63 days remaining before the Jan. 1, 2000, deadline, there still remains some concern about certain agencies - especially with regard to their contingency and Day One plans," said Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), chairwoman of the Technology Subcommittee. "To be fully prepared for Y2K, every organization must ensure that their Day One strategies are ready and that practical contingency plans are in place."


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