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Fed agencies still lagging with Y2K fixes

As the clock ticks, a number of federal agencies and government partners are still behind in their efforts to prevent possible Y2K-related computer failures, according to a White House report.

As the clock ticks, a number of federal agencies and government partners are still behind in their efforts to prevent possible Y2K-related computer failures, according to a White House report.

The government has completed 97 percent of the year 2000 computer fixes for its most critical electronic systems, the Office of Management and Budget said yesterday in a quarterly report on federal Y2K efforts.

However, of 24 large departments Back to Year 2000 Index Pageand agencies that provide critical federal services, nine agencies have a combined total of 217 critical systems that still require repair or replacement. The Defense Department owns 161 of those systems and appears likely to keep working on Y2K repairs right up to January 1.

"A number of the remaining agencies need to increase the pace of their efforts," said Deidre Lee, acting deputy director for management office at the OMB, in a statement.

The year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many computers now must be modified, or they may mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900 and may not be able to function at all.

The government's efforts to assess and fix its 6,343 "mission critical" systems will cost an estimated $8.34 billion--up $290 million from three months ago--the OMB reported.

In the past, congressional investigators and some Y2K experts were skeptical that the government could fix its systems by Jan. 1, 2000. But now nearly all major agencies expect to wrap up work on their internal computer systems within the next few weeks, according to the report.

Now most of those critics concede that some progress has indeed been made to combat the possible effects of the Y2K bug.

"It's a very good indication that the government's making progress," said Eunice Lieberman, a spokesperson for the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Computer Problem. "It's a little disappointing that we're not there yet, but we're confident national security plans won't fail, and progress is being made."

However, critics are still speaking out. "The job is still not completed," said Rep. Stephen Horn (R-California). "Progress during this quarter, which ended August 15, is discouraging. The flurry of activity we saw among federal agencies earlier this year has slowed to a snail's pace."

Horn, who has drawn the spotlight for releasing his own quarterly report cards on Y2K progress, said despite the work by most of the agencies, "the overall federal government improved its compliance rate by a measly 1 percent during the last three months. This performance rate is simply not acceptable."

Keeping with tradition, Horn gave the government's progress a B- for the quarter--the same grade the California Republican issued the government last quarter.

The report also contains data on work with states and other outside partners vital to the delivery of services in 43 "high-impact" programs--selected for their importance to public health and safety.

"A number of these partners report that their systems are ready for the date change, but we continue to have concerns about those projecting late year completion dates for their Y2K work," said Lee.

In many cases, Horn said the federal agency responsible for the program may be compliant, "but its partners--state and local governments, and the private sector--who assist in delivering the service are not ready."

Agencies will continue to encourage their partners to complete testing as soon as possible and ensure that appropriate contingency plans are in place before the end of the year, Lee explained.

The OMB plans to submit a final report to Congress by mid-December, a spokesperson said.