Gore Can Preen, But He Can't Hide
The Clinton administration is basking in industry's praise for its ballyhooed framework for global electronic commerce, but it can't avoid the shadow from the year 2000 software disaster that is fast approaching.
In a West Wing ceremony, Vice President Al Gore was declared the nation's top guru on electronic commerce even as he and other senior administration officials deliberately ignore the federal governments' No. 1 information technology problem - the year 2000 software glitch.
Gore's ambitions were on display July 1 at the glitzy White House ceremony, which was attended by a gathering of delighted chief executive officers, batteries of TV cameras and numerous reporters, where President Bill Clinton pinned on his deputy the task of pioneering the nation's rush into cyberspace commerce.
Of course Gore wants the job. He gets to be seen in a high-profile, low-risk and reasonably glamorous role, ingratiate himself with numerous high-tech entrepreneurs and fill his campaign chest for the presidential race in 2000.
But Gore and Clinton declined to answer questions at their press conference to unveil their global framework for electronic commerce, instead stepping briskly off to a private grip-and-grin barred to people who might ask this awkward question: Why don't you first lead the federal government's computer programs out of the year 2000 quagmire?
Many of the feds' computers will go belly up as they approach Jan. 1, 2000, because their internal clocks can't handle the transition from 1999 to 2000. The bill for fixing this problem is several billion dollars now as the Clinton administration just admitted. The latest White House price tag is $2.8 billion and spiraling toward the $30 billion predicted by the Gartner Group.
It will be some comfort that this cost will be far less than the disastrous savings and loan collapse in the 1980s.
There is also plenty of blame to go around - President Clinton is not providing leadership on this issue; civil servants were supposed to fix the problem early; cabinet secretaries don't press for extra funds; and Congress does little but offer a few token dollars and distance itself from the inevitable public-relations problem.
Yet Gore advertises himself as the government's high-tech savant. If he wants to claim some of the credit for this nation's leadership in information technology, he must take some of the risk.
And Gore had better act quickly - otherwise his personal ambitions for 2000 may get chopped up by the year 2000 problem.
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