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Tech Industry

Clinton calls for Year 2000 action

President Clinton will propose legislation to limit legal liability for companies that share information to fix the Year 2000 bug.

    President Clinton today called for accelerated efforts to fix the Year 2000 problem, announcing that he would propose legislation to limit legal liability for companies that share information to fix the massive software bug.

    Clinton said this "Good Samaritan" law would encourage companies to work together more closely for the common good of all--a rare occurrence in the hypercompetitive high-tech industry.

    "The consequences of the millennium bug, if not

    President Clinton
    President Clinton addressing Y2K issues at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. AP
    addressed, could simply be a rash of annoyances, like being unable to use a credit card at the supermarket," he said in a speech this morning at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. Vice President Al Gore, the administration's point person for technology issues, was on hand for the address.

    Clinton's "Good Samaritan" legislation would protect those who carefully share information on Y2K solutions or compliancy from liability claims based on that information.

    He also said the Labor Department is expanding its Y2K information technology job bank in order to concentrate more available workers on the problem. His administration is "reaching out to retired military and civilian" programmers and information technology experts to work on the problem.

    The White House has been urged by industry analysts and members of Congress to address the issue and to counter some critics that say the administration has lacked leadership on the problem.

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    As expected, the speech gave Clinton and Gore a chance to publicly back initiatives already started by the administration's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, headed by John Koskinen, and the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem.

    Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), vice chair of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 technology problem, said Clinton "gave a forceful wake-up call to the nation," and he strongly supports the high priority that both the president and vice president are giving to "this serious problem."

    "While President Clinton did not sugarcoat the magnitude of this issue, he provided an optimistic assessment that both the public and private sector will rise to meet this challenge," Dodd said.

    On the global front, Clinton said the United States will contribute $12 million to support the World Bank's efforts to increase awareness of the Year 2000 bug in developing countries.

    Later this month, the President's Council on Year 2000 conversion will launch its "National Campaign for Year 2000 solutions" to promote public and private sector action on Y2K and to encourage information sharing," he said.

    Dennis Grabow, chief executive of financial advisory firm Millennium Investment, based in Chicago, said that although it was a long time in coming, the president's speech was a move in the right direction. "One of the most important things this country needs is leadership from the president and vice president on this issue."

    He also praised the president for pushing legislation that encourages companies to share Year 2000-related information. "Some industries have the same equipment, and companies could fix systems faster if more information was shared."

    Grabow also said that having the White House weigh in on the Y2K issue will undoubtedly spur more lively and useful discussion in the media.

    Republican leaders have lashed out at the Clinton administration for playing down the Year 2000 bug and have established their own congressional committee along with a plan to seek extra money in emergency spending to fix the technology problem.

    Last month, House Speaker Newt Gingrich publicly criticized the White House for dropping the ball on the issue, saying that the administration is presiding over "a large wreck" set to take place on January 1, 2000.

    Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Chair of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology problem, said the issue has needed this kind of national attention for a long time. "Now that the president of the United States has said the Year 2000 issue is a problem, hopefully the American people will recognize its severity and pay more attention to it." He also praised Clinton's call for a government-wide goal of full compliance by March 1999.

    The bug comes from antiquated hardware and software formats that denote years in two-digit formats, such as 98 for 1998 and 99 for 1999. The glitch will occur in 2000, when computers are either fooled into thinking the year is 1900 or interpret the 2000 as a meaningless "00." The glitch could throw out of whack everything from bank systems to building security procedures, critics warn.

    As the Y2K issue has gained political significance for both parties over the past few months, funding that was initially approved by both the House and Senate became the victim of political wrangling.

    The House Rules Committee stripped the House and Senate appropriations bills of "the emergency funding mechanisms" that seek to set aside $2.25 billion in emergency money for Year 2000 conversion projects, according to a committee spokesperson.

    Conservatives on Capitol Hill have taken aim in recent weeks at emergency spending proposals, claiming they are inconsistent with a balanced-budget approach to federal spending. But the move to take out the funding for Y2K fixes seems to fly in the face of Republican leadership's recent claims that President Clinton and Vice President Gore are not taking the problem seriously enough.