Congress, White House Spar Over Year 2000

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Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.
Senate photo

Congress, White House Spar Over Year 2000

By Neil Munro
Staff Writer

White House officials are resisting calls by congressional and industry officials to provide higher-profile leadership to help resolve the impending year 2000 software problem.

The White House should draft a formal presidential executive order, call a press conference or a special cabinet meeting to help deal with the year 2000 problem, said Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md., who chairs the technology panel of the House Committee on Science, during a recent hearing on Capitol Hill.

"The president needs to use the bully pulpit," said Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the technology and management panel of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. "We need him [to] make recommendations on the best way to focus attention on this issue," he said.

"A definite statement has to be made," Morella said at a July 10 hearing called by the two panels to showcase their concern over the agencies' ability to handle the year 2000 problem.

Morella, Horn and other members of Congress said they were skeptical that the agencies can solve the problem on time and within the Clinton administration's $2.8 billion estimate.

They cited reports prepared by the agencies and a fresh study by the General Accounting Office, "Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Time Is Running Out For Federal Agencies to Prepare for the Millennium," which showed some agencies have allocated very little time to test their upgraded software.

Also, Horn said he was concerned that the agencies do not report their progress in an identical fashion, making it difficult for Congress to gauge how much work is incomplete.

Additional hearings by both chambers are planned later this month and in the fall to review agencies' progress, congressional officials said.

The year 2000 problem has been caused by a common software design practice that described each year with only two digits and assumed that all years began with 19. Thus the year 2000, or 00, is understood as 1900 by the calendars written into many software programs. Unless fixed, this feature will tangle the routine operation of office computers, as well as a variety of computer-controlled devices such as missiles, elevators and medical devices.

To fix all computers and computer-controlled devices in the United States, the bill could rise to $300 billion, according to an estimate by the Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group consulting firm. The government's share of this could reach $12 billion, according to the Vienna, Va.-based research firm, Input, or $60 billion, according to the Gartner Group.

Federal government officials recently revised their estimate upward to $2.8 billion.

The demand for greater White House involvement by Morella and Horn was made to lower-level administration officials, who do not have the authority to accept or reject the demand. "I will carry the message" to the White House, responded Sally Katzen, chief of the information technology division of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, who testified at the hearing.

But there is little need for a greater White House role, partly because top agency officials are already working to resolve the problem, she told lawmakers. "The public should be aware that the executive branch is aware of, and is working on, the problem," she added.

Moreover, "this is an area where a dose of medicine administered at a central point will not solve the problem, Katzen said.

So far, Clinton and Gore have distanced themselves from the problem.

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Gore, said the vice president "is obviously very concerned about it." However, he said, "we haven't issued any statements" on the problem.

"We have approached Gore's office, and said that we think this is something that should be done," said Cohen. But the response "was not one where we feel that's likely to happen very soon," he said.

Jeff Jinnett, president of LeBoeuf Computing Technologies, a year 2000 consulting firm based in New York, said that the year 2000 problem could be a serious [political] issue for Republicans and Democrats.

During the hearing, Democratic lawmakers defended the administration. "It should not be a game of 'gotcha,'" said Rep. Bart Gorton, D-Tenn., the senior Democrat on Morella's technology panel.

However, Barton also called for greater government attention. "This issue is still not taken seriously enough ... I don't believe the necessary funds and management have been committed to solve the problem." For example, not enough is being done to ensure that the year 2000 problem will not hinder links between federal systems and computer systems operated by state and local governments, as well as foreign governments, he said.

Under questioning by Horn, Katzen said the administration has enough money to fix the problem.

Despite the skirmishing in Congress, some industry officials were also skeptical that a greater White House role could help the nation solve its year 2000 problem.

"I don't know what government jawboning can do to help this," said Cathy Hotka, vice president of information technologies at the Washington-based National Retail Federation.

"If the government can ensure that the federal agencies and the Congress maintain their operations ... that will probably be the most helpful thing they can do," she said. Retailers are required to send in much tax and regulation-related data to government computers.

The government might have played a useful role five years ago, when it could have devised a menu of standard year 2000 fixes, Hotka said. But retailers - and their subcontractors - must now fix their year 2000 problem without any help from the government, she said.

AGENCY YEAR 2000 COST ESTIMATES AS OF MAY 15, 1997
(Dollars in millions, by fiscal year)
AGENCY 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 TOTAL
Agriculture 3.7 22.1 37.3 27.8 6.3 97.2
Commerce 2.6 11.3 27.3 25.1 6.6 72.9
Defense 10.4 381.6 620.9 263 41.1 1317
Education 0.1 0.6 3.4 4.4 0.2 8.7
Energy 1.8 30.5 54.4 53.1 21.1 160.9
HHS 0 27.7 42.9 14.5 5.6 90.7
HUD 0.7 11 35 15 6.2 67.9
Interior 0.2 3.4 15 4.3 1.8 24.7
Justice 1.5 8 9.8 2.9 0.3 22.5
Labor 1.7 5.3 4.6 2.2 1.5 15.2
State 0.5 47.6 56.4 29.1 1.6 135.2
Transportation 1.8 13.8 25.6 44.1 6.6 91.9
Treasury 1.3 106 102 119 41 369.3
VA 4 49 49 42 0 144
AID 0 0.2 0.5 0.3 0 1
EPA 0.8 3.3 6.8 5.6 2.3 18.8
FEMA 3.8 4.4 3 3.2 1.2 15.6
GSA 0.2 0.6 0.6 0.2 0 1.6
NASA 0.1 8.8 19.8 13.7 2.2 44.6
NSF 0 0.2 0.3 0.1 0 0.6
NRC n/a 2.6 2.9 2.9 0.9 9.3
OPM 1.7 2.1 0.3 0.3 0.3 4.7
SBA 2.7 2.3 1.9 0 0 6.9
SSA 2.2 15.4 9.5 6 0.1 33.2
TOTAL 41.9 757.8 1129.1 678.7 146.9 2754.4
Source: General Accounting Office

AGENCY YEAR 2000 MISSION-CRITICAL SYSTEMS
(May 15, 1997)
Agency Total Number Number Compliant % of Total Number Being Replaced Number being Repaired Number being Retired Undecided
Agriculture 684 80 12 43 469 87 5
Commerce 484 111 23 110 162 3 98
Defense 3,962 582 15 473 2,752 487 141
Education 24 10 42 6 7 1 -
Energy 261 73 28 119 61 8 -
HHS 566 251 44 132 177 6 -
HUD 206 32 16 36 115 23 -
Interior 85 35 41 10 38 2 -
Justice 190 61 32 10 118 1 -
Labor 58 6 10 28 24 0 -
State 58 12 21 29 14 0 3
DOT 166 18 11 16 132 0 -
Treasury 86 13 15 7 66 0 -
VA 11 1 9 0 10 0 -
AID 64 20 31 30 2 0 12
EPA 61 28 46 12 16 0 5
FEMA 38 17 45 3 17 1 -
GSA 42 16 38 2 23 1 -
NASA 453 205 45 37 211 0 -
NSF 16 0 - 4 12 0 -
NRC n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a -
OPM 94 17 18 9 67 1 -
SBA 40 10 25 30 0 0 -
SSA 29,139 20,426 71 975 7,730 8 -
Total 7,649 1,598 21 673 4,493 621 264
Source: General Accounting Office

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