On the Y2K stakeout

Well before midnight on New Year's Eve, Raleigh Owens will climb into his car and drive the 10 miles into West Branch, Iowa, to the Herbert Hoover presidential library, where he will wait for the new millennium to arrive.

While the 2,000 citizens of West Branch toast the new year, Owens plans to check the heat, lights, computer system and phone service at the library. Then he will report to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., which operates presidential libraries from Hyde Park, N.Y., to Abilene, Kan.

Meanwhile, high overhead, Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey will be flying from Washington to Dallas to San Francisco, zipping from time zone to time zone as 1999 rolls over to 2000 to demonstrate that air travel is safe and computers that keep airplanes in the sky are still operating.

For thousands of government computer operators and managers nationwide, ringing in the new year won't mean sipping champagne, blowing horns and throwing confetti. Instead, they "will be working a full weekend," said Shirley Malia, co-chairwoman of the Year 2000 Committee of the federal CIO Council.

For months, agencies have been developing operating plans to monitor events and respond to emergencies. It has been similar to preparing for a hurricane but "a lot more massive," Malia said.

At the center of the effort is the federal Year 2000 Information Coordination Center (ICC). Officials from every agency, as well as from many states and industries, will be at the ICC for the rollover. They will gather and analyze information on incidents as they are reported from across the country and send resources for fixing problems where they are needed.

Roger Baker, chief information officer at the Commerce Department, plans to be in the ICC Dec. 31. Commerce also plans to have teams monitoring systems from offices such as the Patent and Trademark Office in Crystal City, Va. As the weekend progresses, the department plans to make an e-mail broadcast to employees detailing what to do if things go wrong, starting with whether to show up for work Jan. 3.

"My expectation is that while we still have some amount of work to do, it's going to be a normal event," Baker said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is standing by in case the computer experts are wrong. FEMA plans to begin around-the-clock operations on the night of Dec. 30 and continue through Jan. 4.

Many agencies have set up mini-Year 2000 coordination centers, where officials plan to monitor systems agencywide. A group of technology experts at the U.S. Postal Service plan to ring in the new year by locking themselves in a room early on Dec. 31 at USPS headquarters to begin watching as the world's clocks strike midnight, linked to the outside by satellite imagery technology, radar, computers and telephones.

"The room looks like the command center of the space shuttle," said Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders.

The Treasury Department has set up a center as well, where workers will staff the around-the-clock command center from Dec. 31 until about Jan. 9 to test computer systems and provide assistance if problems occur at the nation's banks.

The General Services Administration has set up a virtual Year 2000 war room a few blocks from the White House and across the street from the ICC. Workers there will monitor information from 10 regional situation rooms, said Diane Savoy, GSA's assistant CIO. The agency plans to check the computerized systems in thousands of federal buildings, motor vehicle fleets and warehouses full of supplies that it manages.

Any problem will be reported up the chain of command until it gets to the Washington headquarters, where the impact of the problem will be analyzed and determinations made about whether other agencies are experiencing the same problems. If problems appear to be widespread, they will be reported to the ICC.

The Education Department has set up a command center where staff members plan to pull 12-hour shifts. The center will operate from Dec. 28 through Jan. 7.

About five Justice Department employees will staff a Year 2000 information center, which will be set up at the command center that the FBI and its National Infrastructure Protection Center will use to monitor the Year 2000 problem on a broader scale. The information center will be staffed around the clock from 6 p.m., Dec. 30, until 4 p.m., Jan. 4.

Justice's bureaus have set up their own Year 2000 information centers.

"In general for the Department of Justice, it's going to be business as usual," said Linda Burek, deputy CIO for Justice, adding that the department recently has experienced only one noteworthy Year 2000-related problem: a miscalculation in a table within a financial management system. The table was reset and the problem fixed quickly.

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