Congress: Fed Y2K Spending Was Justified

WASHINGTON (01/28/2000) - Witnesses told a congressional panel last week that a huge, Y2K-like spending effort is needed to protect government computers from security threats. But for now, the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology seemed content to bask in the glow of a job well done on Y2K.

Subcommittee members concluded at their final hearing on Y2K that the more than $8 billion spent by the federal government to eradicate the Y2K bug wasn't wasted.

The committee doesn't really know, and probably won't investigate, whether some of that money was indeed wasted. Instead, it used corporate Y2K spending as an indication that lots of money was truly needed to fix the problem.

Publicly traded firms "could not afford to squander hundreds of millions of dollars on unnecessary computer problems and contingency plans. Boards of directors would not permit it," said Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), the subcommittee chairman and an ardent critic of federal Y2K efforts.

"Was the money well spent? Of course it was," Horn said.

But at the same hearing, the panel was told that information security needs the same level of effort as the year 2000 date rollover problem. Fernando Burbano, CIO at the Department of State, said federal agencies don't have the money to pursue critical infrastructure protection initiatives.

As a result, federal agencies are "poorly positioned" to "address the challenges posed by the ever-growing cyberunderworld," Burbano said.

The committee will be holding hearings on that issue.

Federal monitoring efforts on Y2K will continue for the next two months.

Joel Willemssen, information systems director at the U.S. General Accounting Office, said some problems related to the leap year are expected, and scattered glitches will likely appear in federal systems at certain reporting dates.

Despite the success of Y2K efforts, the issue left something of a paradox in its wake.

"How was it that a winter storm caused more damages and inconveniences than the Y2K problem?" said Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.). Most of the government was shut down for two days last week after a winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow.

Asked why there were fewer Y2K problems overseas than expected, White House Y2K czar John Koskinen said many countries were reporting old information. He said Y2K status reports were often well behind the remediation progress.

Plus, outside of the nations that are heavily dependent on information technology such as the U.S., Canada, Japan and the U.K., most countries relied on off-the-shelf software and weren't saddled with legacy systems full of Y2K bugs, Koskinen added.

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