States, Agencies Make Y2K Progress

States, Agencies Make Y2K Progress

John Koskinen

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

A new national database shows that federal agencies and the states are making progress toward inoculating their critical data exchange systems against year 2000 problems, but it's unclear whether they will meet the federal government's March 31 deadline.

There are nearly 8,000 separate interfaces where federal agencies exchange electronic information with the states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

While only 64 percent of these electronic interfaces are known to be compliant as of Feb. 4, the compliance level may be much higher because the database is not complete, government officials said.

"Just because the states haven't reported their data, that doesn't mean the work is not going on," said Kathleen Adams, assistant deputy commissioner for systems in the Social Security Administration.

The new Federal/State Data Exchange Database has largely up-to-date information from federal agencies, but more information is needed regarding the status of the states. "It's a work in progress," she said.

Adams, who co-chairs a federal and state year 2000 working group, said many federal agencies and states should meet the deadline, but she stopped short of saying all would achieve compliance.

"That's what we're working toward," she said. "We've made decent progress."

The year 2000 problem is caused by a programming flaw that could make computers worldwide interpret the year 2000 as the year 1900. The federal government is spending an estimated $7.2 billion for Y2K fixes, and billions more are being spent by state and local governments and U.S. businesses.

Addressing the exchange of data between the federal government and the states is just one piece of a larger effort by government officials to ensure their information systems are Y2K compliant. But making sure that data exchanges run smoothly Jan. 1, 2000, is important for all levels of government.

The Social Security Administration, for example, exchanges data files with the states to determine the eligibility of disabled persons for disability benefits; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides the states with information needed for driver registrations.

The states also administer more than 160 federal programs, including unemployment insurance, Medicaid and food stamps, according to John Koskinen, the chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion.

Millions of Americans rely upon these programs, so the federal government "obviously has a vested interest in requiring that state systems administering them are Y2K compliant," Koskinen told House lawmakers at a Jan. 20 hearing.

But fixing the data exchanges is not easy. Every one of the electronic interfaces between the federal government and the states must be examined and corrected by the agencies on both ends of the exchange to prevent a system in one agency from contaminating another system with faulty date-related data.

"It's a very time-consuming process," said Linda Lambert, assistant director of civil agencies, information systems, for the General Accounting Office, a congressional watchdog agency.

What makes it so difficult, she said, is that state and federal agencies must work together to implement and test compatible, agreed-upon fixes.

Adams said that the Social Security Administration has almost 2,000 external exchanges that had to be coordinated with outside agencies, including state governments.

"You have to contact everybody and agree on a format," she said. "Each side must know what the other's format is. You can't change your format unilaterally."

The Social Security Administration has completed Y2K work on about 99 percent of its exchanges, said Adams.

The General Services Administration manages the new Federal/State Data Exchange Database.

GSA officials began compiling the database last fall, using information previously collected from the states by the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.

But because NASIRE's data gathering was a voluntary effort, not all of the states participated.

Koskinen said three states still had not provided any information to the GSA database about the status of their data exchange activities.

Adams described the database as a tool for chief information officers in the federal agencies and the states. While it does not replace the day-to-day contacts that must go on at the working level to implement needed fixes, the database can alert officials to problems and help them assess the overall progress of their Y2K efforts.

"We think it's important for the states to participate," said Adams. "The information is as valuable to them as it is to us."

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