US agencies could stumble over year 2000 fixes

US federal agencies are far from prepared for the year 2000 computer bug and must abandon their attempt to get all systems ready, government auditors said recently.

Instead, they must concentrate on prepping mission-critical systems.

The year 2000 bug refers to the last-two-digit dating convention computers use, which in 2000 will probably prompt systems to interpret 00 as 1900.

The resulting confusion could delay ground flights or compromise their safety; delay payments to disabled veterans and pensioners; and impede the military's ability to equip and sustain its forces around the world, according to a report presented by the General Accounting Office (GAO) during a recent hearing in Congress. The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

According to the report, only around 35 per cent of federal agencies' mission-critical systems are currently 2000-compliant. "It is clear that not all mission-critical systems will be fixed in time," the report states.

The GAO is not alone in its assessment. A report card issued this month by Representative Stephen Horn, a Republican from California, gave the US Department of Defense, home of many mission-critical systems, a grade of "F" (see Web site http://www.house.gov/reform/gmit/y2k/980304gc.pdf/).

According to the GAO report, agencies have spent too much of the available time assessing the problem rather than fixing it.

GAO said market researcher Gartner Group recommends that no more than a quarter of available time be spent on awareness and assessment phases of the 2000 problem.

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