Lessons learned

The Year 2000 problem, which came and went with only minor disruptions,

may be remembered more for its positive impact on information technology

than its catastrophic threat.

Federal managers have learned important lessons and skills on how to

manage people and other resources needed to tackle monumental tasks.

"Year 2000 was a breakthrough because once we figured out [that if we]

didn't put the right management attention to solving this problem, programs

would stop," said Anne Reed, chief information officer at the Agriculture

Department. "If programs stopped, [managers] would be held accountable for

the viability of their organization."

The effort underscored the important role that IT plays in every aspect

of an agency's mission. It also forged strong partnerships between managers

and technical employees who had to ensure that programs and services continued

after the date rollover. These partnerships will be sustained over time

and become more important as the government embraces the idea of electronic

government, Reed said.

CIOs took on new roles as they stepped into the spotlight to talk about

what their departments were doing from a management perspective to address

the Year 2000 technology challenge, Reed said. "It was a very interesting

position for CIOs to be in a position of managing outreach efforts," she

said.

The fact that there were only minor glitches Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 proves

that the Year 2000 effort was managed successfully, said Emory Miller, director

of IT professional development at the General Services Administration's

Office of Governmentwide Policy. "Sometimes the measurement of success is

a lack of things," he said. "In this case it was a lack of problems. I think

when you're as successful as we have been, I think people have a great sense

of pride...and I think they would welcome the next challenge."

The Year 2000 exercise taught IT workers how to work better with people

inside and outside their agencies to solve complex problems and how to think

strategically, GSA's Miller said.

"It's "big picture' skills that involved not only agency business but

agency infrastructure," he said. "Maybe we glued ourselves together a little

better. Strategically we understand how to talk to one another. Maybe we're

better positioned now to address the next problem."

Many observers anticipate the next wide-scale problem for government

will be information security, although most agree that

security is quite different from the Year 2000 glitch. Unlike the date change

problem, security is an ongoing challenge without a set deadline and without

a clear threat.

"With security, the nature of the threat, the instigator of the threat,

when it will occur is vaporous, so it's a much harder problem to manage

than Y2K," said Clay Hollister, CIO at the Federal Emergency Management

Agency. Still, it will take a concerted federal effort and attention from

the top to make sure everybody is in engaged in the effort, he said.

The message that agencies can take from the Year 2000 effort is that the

government is capable of dealing with other major problems, said Harris

Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.

"Generally the message is positive, that when we stay focused on the problem

and use resources we have, we can overcome enormous challenges," he said.

Making people personally responsible for a project such as fixing the

Year 2000 problem and having a high-level official such as Year 2000 czar

John Koskinen leading the charge are essential, GSA's Miller said. He has

called for a federal information security czar to ensure that agencies are

coordinated in their efforts to secure their systems. However, the Clinton

administration has no intention of appointing such a person.

While most federal IT experts view the Year 2000 outcome as a resounding

success, they may never answer the critics' question of whether they overreacted

to the threat. Tom Giammo, former assistant commissioner of the Patent and

Trademark Office and former associate director at the General Accounting

Office, sums up what many still believe: Agencies were driven by emotion

and failed to follow proper risk management methodology that would have

saved taxpayers considerable time and money.

"There was a total breakdown on Year 2000," Giammo said. "It weakens

the sense that there is a methodology that should be followed. [The agency

overseers have] lost their moral right to insist on it from some of the

agencies."

But whether the Year 2000 bug was overhyped or mismanaged, the public

agrees that the bottom line is that the world avoided catastrophe.

As Bruce McConnell, director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center,

said after most systems worldwide seemingly rolled over into 2000 without

major hitches: "We did it right."

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