US govt Y2K grade improves to 'B-'

US government departments and agencies scored a "B-" in the latest quarterly report card assessing year-2000 preparations issued on Tuesday by a House of Representatives subcommittee, which found that 94 percent of mission-critical computer systems are ready for the date change.

The House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology has been issuing the quarterly report cards since last August, when the country's 24 largest agencies and departments of President Bill Clinton's administration rated a dismal "D."

The latest assessment was based on information reported from the agencies and departments as of May 14. The Agency for International Development continues to pull down the average overall grade with an "F." That agency has received a failing grade in each quarterly assessment.

The departments of Energy and Agriculture each scored a "C+" (which represents a drop from a "B" last quarter for Energy), with the departments of Justice, Transportation and Treasury each receiving a "C" and Defense meriting a "C-." Every other department or agency made an "A" or "B."

"Good progress has been made," Representative Stephen Horn said in a written statement. Horn, a California Republican who is subcommittee chairman, added his usual cautionary note: "but there are still critical systems to fix."

Once again, rating a note of concern is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is part of the Department of Transportation. The FAA's air traffic control system is not yet year-2000 compliant. Neither is the Department of Health and Human Service's payment management system, which processes some $US165 billion in federal assistance and grant programs annually, including Medicaid.

"The concern is that until all of these systems are compliant, government agencies cannot begin their program-wide testing," Horn said in the statement.

The subcommittee previously focused on mission-critical systems and embedded chip issues, but now has turned its attention to whether agencies and departments have prepared viable contingency plans, if they are examining telecommunications and if work is being verified.

"We found that 70 percent of these activities are still in progress," Horn said. "Yet even with the additional weight placed on these criteria, more than half of the 24 departments and agencies earned 'A's' this quarter ... Just as you would not grade college seniors on the same set of criteria expected of college juniors, our expectations for this quarter rose."

Despite the overall tone of optimism struck in the statement -- a departure from previous report card assessments -- Horn noted that the Office of Management and Budget has identified 43 federal programs as "high impact," meaning they are likely to have a large impact on citizens, including Social Security, Medicare and air traffic control. Among those 43 programs, only Social Security and the National Weather Service claim that their systems are year-2000 compliant, Horn said.

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