OMB, Congress Push Year 2000 Solutions

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OMB, Congress Push Year 2000 Solutions

By Neil Munro
Staff Writer

The White House's Office of Management and Budget is using its control over the 1998 budget request to force agencies to boost their efforts to solve the impending year 2000 software problem.

The increased scrutiny was announced in a new OMB report, titled "Progress on Year 2000 Conversion."

The new OMB policy was released Sept. 15, the day a scathing report on the agencies' preparedness was released by Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the government management and technology panel of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

Based on agency documents reviewed by Horn's staff and by the Congress' General Accounting Office, Horn gave failing grades to three agencies and an A to only one agency, the Social Security Administration. Four agencies were given Bs, eight were given Cs and eight were given Ds.

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.

"For these agencies, we are establishing a rebuttable presumption ... that we will not fund requests for information technology investments unless they are directly related to fixing the year 2000 problem," according to the OMB report.

The agencies' status may be revised when they submit quarterly reports to OMB showing their year 2000 preparedness. The next report is to be sent by the agencies to the OMB by Nov. 15.

The year 2000 problem is caused by a common software glitch that ignores the first two digits in any four-digit year. The glitch could make the software misinterpret the year 2000 as the year 1900, causing computers to jumble dates and calculations.

YEAR 2000 GRADES
Social Security Administration A-
General Services Administration B
Department of Health and Human Services B-
Department of Housing and Urban Development C
Department of the Interior C
Department of Labor C
Department of State C
Department of Veterans Affairs C
Department of Defense C-
Department of Commerce D
Department of Justice D
Department of Agriculture D-
NASA D-
Department of the Treasury D-
Agency for International Development F
Department of Transportation F
Department of Education F
In its report, OMB said the cost to repair the software problem will reach $3.8 billion. Of the 8,562 critical computer systems, 13 percent are being replaced, 5 percent are being retired, 62 percent are being repaired and 19 percent have already been repaired, said the OMB report.

But OMB's report shows that it is not taking the problem seriously enough, argues Michael Aisenberg, director of strategy and policy for Digital Equipment Corp.'s $1 billion federal sector based in Greenbelt, Md. Solving the year 2000 problem will likely cost the federal government $15 billion, and should be paid for with money taken from lower-priority efforts within the federal agencies, rather than only from information technology programs, he said.

Also, the government should not waste time and money fixing individual software programs, but instead should switch operations over to problem-free commercial technology, he said. "There simply is not enough time to put Band-Aids on all the systems," said Aisenberg.

According to Horn, the agencies' poor grades highlight the need for OMB to pay more attention to management problems within the agencies, rather than only oversee the preparation of the federal budget request to Congress. OMB "is so overwhelmed by the budget ... they are playing patch up" with agencies' management problems such as the year 2000 problem, he said.

The year 2000 grades were part of a report on the agencies' preparedness released by Rep. Steve Horn, R- Calif., chairman of the government management and technology panel of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

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