Year 2000 Progress?

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Year 2000 Progress?

Year 2000 Progress?

California Republican Steve Horn is finally getting the attention of the White House.

The prospect of televised embarrassment from Congressman Horn handing out bad grades - again - to big federal agencies for failing to address the year 2000 software problem prodded the Clinton administration to launch its own awareness campaign.

First came a newspaper story about how the Clinton administration is dealing with the problem, quoting senior officials saying they would freeze failing agencies' information technology procurement spending until they fix their year 2000 problem.

The next day the White House's Office of Management and Budget released a report about agency "progress" toward averting a year 2000 crisis. That's the same day Horn planned to trumpet his annual report card at a hearing on Capitol Hill.

During that session, Horn gave failing grades to three agencies. In addition, four agencies were given Bs, eight were given Cs and eight were given Ds. The only agency to receive an A was the Social Security Administration.

The agencies given failing grades were the Department of Transportation, the Department of Education and the Agency for International Development. These three agencies, plus the Department of Agriculture, were tagged by OMB for careful review during the budget process.

The administration's report says the OMB will adopt a "rebuttable presumption" that agencies' investments should be curbed until they show they are fixing the year 2000 problem.

That's a phrase without meaning, a threat without substance and a policy without commitment. But it is a start for the Clinton administration, which has diligently sought to avoid this tar-baby of an issue.

What remains to be seen is if the OMB directive has any teeth. We'll find out in the next few weeks and certainly by February, when President Clinton submits his 1999 budget request to Congress.

In the meantime, one measure of progress will be agency reprogramming requests. If agencies are serious about getting their year 2000 software conversion act together, they'll redirect loose cash at the end of the 1997 fiscal year to solve the problem.

Another thing to watch is OMB Director Franklin Raines' level of involvement. If he doesn't weigh in on the issue, the administration's point-person on year 2000, Sally Katzen, will be left with only the power to cut some information technology programs to feed the year 2000 fixes. She doesn't have the needed clout to pay for the year 2000 fix by cutting low priority programs such as new buildings, ineffective training programs or corporate subsidies.

If there is no movement on these two fronts, treat OMB's report as routine Washington spin and mark off the next few months as wasted time. And wasted time is something this nation can't afford to consider as we march day-by-day closer to 2000.


©1997, TechNews. All rights reserved.

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