Much Y2K work still needed in US government

US state, local and federal governments still have a lot of work to do preparing and testing for the year 2000 computer problem, according to testimony presented at a congressional hearing on Saturday.

That's not much of a revelation to anyone who has followed US government progress. Overall, there wasn't much new provided in a written statement of the testimony of Joel Willemssen, [CQ] director of Civil Agencies Information Systems at the US General Accounting Office (GAO), the watchdog agency of Congress. He testified before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology Saturday during a hearing in Silicon Valley also attended by various IT company executives.

The year 2000 computer problem is occurring because most older software code was written with a two-digit date field that might interpret the "00" in 2000 as "1900" and therefore either fail or make incorrect calculations. Governments and businesses worldwide have spent billions of dollars to correct errant code or to replace computer systems.

Willemssen's testimony outlined past GAO findings related to year 2000 preparations and planning and offered a compilation of other recent surveys, including one finding that only three of 50 US states have fully tested computer systems and deemed them "compliant."

Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota all say that their government systems are completely ready to handle the date change. Other states are in various stages of preparation, with 14 saying that they don't plan to have systems tested until October or after, according to survey results reported by Willemssen. He cited a report released August 3 to the National Association of State Information Resource Executives that found 38 states have finished testing 75 percent to 99 percent of computer systems.

Willemssen further outlined progress by local governments, including the status of major US cities, and he provided an overview of what is happening with various federal agencies and cabinet departments. Accurately assessing progress remains difficult because information often is incomplete, he noted. That has been a persistent problem for the GAO and other agencies overseeing progress.

"In summary, while improvement has been shown, much work remains at the national, federal, state and local levels to ensure that major service disruptions do not occur," he said in the written statement. "Specifically, remediation must be completed, end-to-end testing performed, and business continuity and contingency plans developed."

Besides Willemssen's testimony, the subcommittee also heard from representatives of IT companies, including Intel and Hewlett-Packard Those officials said that their companies are ready for the date change, according to published reports.

The subcommittee is headed by US Representative Stephen Horn, a California Republican, who each quarter issues a report card grading the federal government's progress in year 2000 remediation. The most recent report card gave the government a "B-" and said that 94 percent of mission-critical systems are ready for the date change.

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