New Year's fete no fun for CIOs

It won't be the champagne giving federal chief information officers a headache at New Year's.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to partake in a three-day millennium extravaganza scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., adding a logistical challenge to federal CIOs' Year 2000 problems.

The celebration, hosted by the White House and the Smithsonian Institution, will close streets along the National Mall. Although the Smithsonian announced last week that it plans to move many events inside, the expected gridlock, which will be exacerbated by a daylong festival sponsored by the city, will make it difficult for agency employees to get to work to fix any Year 2000 glitches.

"Friday evening [Dec. 31] is the one that really worries me," said Roger Baker, CIO at the Commerce Department, which sits between Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues. "With streets closed off, there will be walking mobility. But if we need to get people in and out in shifts, there are all sorts of things that will make it hard for us."

Commerce considered moving its Year 2000 command center to the Patent and Trademark Office in Crystal City, Va., as a backup strategy but decided against it because it would be virtually impossible to get people to the new site quickly. Instead, the department bought a generator, additional telecommunications equipment and long-range walkie-talkies in case Commerce headquarters faces any outages.

General Services Administration officials also are wary of the celebration's effect on mobility. "We're very upset about it," said Diane Herdt, director of the Center for Information Infrastructure Services at GSA, which is a few blocks from the White House. "If I'm going to need people to come in, I don't know how they're going to get here."

Some systems can be monitored remotely, so the challenge will be getting people in for hands-on fixes, she said.

Agriculture Department CIO Anne Reed said she has told employees who are working Dec. 31 to be prepared for gridlock. "They're being advised that even though their shift may end, depending on the nature of the traffic and crowds, they may need to spend the night," she said. One manager plans to bring an Army cot to work, she said.

The USDA already had planned to have employees at its Beltsville, Md., and Kansas City, Mo., sites as backup, but the party in downtown Washington "heightened our awareness" to make sure those plans are on track, Reed said.

Most Washington workers are accustomed to handling large crowds and events, but for the Year 2000 date change, "There's a great element of the unknown, whereas we've survived snow storms and Memorial Day concerts," said Don Meyer, press secretary for the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem.

The Clinton administration is taking a calm approach. The celebration is something "we've been paying attention to," said Jack Gribben, communications director for the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. "I think we'll be able to handle it."

Diane Frank contributed to this article.


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