Don't Mess With Year 2000 Success

By Stephen Krulin

As anxiety mounts over the inability of federal agencies to meet the year 2000 compliance challenge, there is one shining example of success today.

That success is the General Services Administration's Mandatory Financial Management Systems Software (FMSS) schedule. It is responsible for successful implementation of financial management systems, the achievement of clean audits, and the realization of year 2000 system compliance. More than 40 federal agencies and departments are now benefiting from the program.

The GSA and the Office of Management and Budget created this buying mechanism in 1986 to address the federal financial management crisis at the time. Agencies have benefited enormously from this process, which accelerates the implementation and lowers the cost of acquiring financial management systems. In fact, in 1995, agencies using these systems reached 85 percent compliance with governmentwide reporting and accountability standards. And they are all Y2K compliant.

Earlier this year, the GSA informed contractors of a proposal to drastically alter, and eventually eliminate, the FMSS schedule. The changes will become effective in October 1999, on the eve of the new millennium.

The timing couldn't be worse. The potential for disaster is virtually guaranteed if the management of our tax dollars is jeopardized by carrying out this new plan.

It's been estimated that federal agencies taking advantage of the FMSS schedule are saving more than $200 million on Y2K compliance alone. Most software packages that agencies purchase from the schedule vendors have built-in Y2K compliance. This spares federal agencies the expense and potential for mistakes or delays in having to create their own Y2K solutions.

Financial management systems are critical for any agency to accurately track and report expenditures, property and liabilities. The FMSS schedule allows government agencies that use this software purchasing process to share common financial methodology, and brings the best private sector business practices to their desktops.

Taxpayer accountability is achievable because financial management systems that qualify for the GSA schedule allow agencies to create flexible, scalable, open systems — the very kind of systems that re-engineering gurus praise as the foundation for streamlined government.

What's more, agencies buying from the GSA schedule receive automatic software upgrades. This allowed several agencies to deliver "clean" audits to the Office of Management and Budget in 1997 for the first time in history.

Everyone seems to agree it is high time that federal agencies adopted a proven business model, applying the same financial management and accounting standards used in the private sector. Yet just when this long-anticipated movement is beginning to show measurable results, the FMSS schedule is under attack.

The FMSS schedule is meeting the goals of its own Joint Financial Management Improvement Program, which was created to set the core minimum requirements for federal financial management.

The clock is ticking down to Jan. 1, 2000, and thousands of federal computers won't wait for contract extensions and revisions. We need to fix the problem now, and that is exactly what software delivered under the FMSS schedule is doing.

Either we continue to save millions of taxpayers dollars, continue reaching clean audits and deliver Y2K compliant government systems, or we return to the chaos of the past. Which will our government choose?

Stephen Krulin is a legal and technical expert on the year 2000 computer problem. He is a member of the Florida Bar's Computer Law Committee, a founding member of the South Florida Working Group, editor of the Computer Law Journal of the Florida Bar, and a member of the Coalition for Federal Financial Accountability.

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