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Y2K on lawmakers' radar screen

Foreign financial crises will likely be aggravated Y2K researchers say, while the White House and Senate release a study on hospital preparedness.

Despite the omnipresence of impeachment proceedings, Y2K still got some play in two separate events in Washington today.

Global strategic specialists warned that financial crises in Asia, Russia, and elsewhere will most likely be aggravated by the Year 2000 technology problem, while senior officials from the White House and Senate released a study on Y2K preparedness of hospital computer systems.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) kicked off the inaugural meeting of its Y2K Task Force with a two-day conference on the impact the computer glitch may have on a number of global issues.

"There is an interesting situation happening in the financial market right now," said Brad Belt, vice-chair of the CSIS Y2K Task Force. "Y2K could exacerbate the current instability in the financial markets."

CSIS is concerned that a number of major financial institutes may begin taking a look at their smaller counterparts and see what little if any Y2K work they have done on their computer systems, Belt told CNET's News.com. "A lot may have their investment terminated, maybe even country-wide," he lamented.

Meanwhile Belt's task force colleague, co-chair Arnaud de Borchgrave, told News.com that another issue concerns him on the global Y2K front. "In the area of cyberterrorism, we [the United States] will be at our most vulnerable at the Year 2000," because future, or current, enemies could be looking to send bogus code looking like Y2K fixes and implant them into unsuspecting computer systems.

De Borchgrave, a former senior editor of Newsweek magazine and current editor-at-large of The Washington Times, said he is also concerned by the lack of leadership being provided by the White House, though he did praise the efforts of the United Kingdom's prime minister, Tony Blair. "When you add the Y2K situation to the global financial market problems it all looks pretty grim," he said.

Later in the day, U.S. government officials held a press conference on Y2K and the U.S. hospital industry's attempts at preparing for the computer glitch, unveiling a study looking at where hospitals they stand in their efforts.

"Medical equipment manufacturers have a responsibility to inform hospitals about devices that may or may not be ready for the Year 2000," said Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), and vice-chair of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. "Thus far, many of them have refused do so and that is unacceptable. Hospitals need to have that information if they are to be successful in preparing for the Year 2000."

In a survey conducted by the American Hospital Association (AHA) this summer on its member hospitals on how prepared they are for the turn of the century, most said they have developed a systematic plan for evaluating their systems and an action plan to convert those computers not yet Y2K compliant.

However, what has irked many observers, including Dodd, is the lack of hospitals and healthcare institutions that have publicly released such data. For instance, in the AHA study, the association only polled 786 of its 5,000 member hospitals.

"The scope of the systems that hospitals must address is so vast, we are particularly concerned about progress in this critical area," said Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Special Committee. "Our committee has been focused on calling attention to year 2000 efforts within the health care sector to ensure that every medical service provider is taking action on this problem."

Perhaps than any other institution, that hospitals must be prepared to meet the challenges posed by the year 2000 computer problem, explained John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, in a statement. "This is not like your local video store where system failures could cause some minor inconveniences. In this environment, Y2K failures in the most basic systems could have serious repercussions for patient care."