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Federal Y2K funding bills slashed

House Republicans strip two efforts to pay for fixing the Y2K problem, though they have criticized the White House for neglecting the issue.

As GOP leaders continue to criticize the White House for neglecting to give the Year 2000 technology problem more attention, House Republicans have stripped two bilateral efforts to pay for fixing the problem.

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday 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. The same was expected to happen late yesterday as the committee takes up the Defense Department's appropriations bill for fiscal 1999.

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 recent swipes by the Republican leadership at President Clinton and Vice President Gore for not taking the problem seriously enough.

Nonetheless, despite last-minute efforts by the White House to sway the committee, Republicans stripped at least the initial amount of $2.25 billion from the Treasury and General Government appropriations bill yesterday.

In two separate statements released yesterday and today, the White House urged members of the House Rules Committee not to strip the emergency funding mechanism. "This regrettable action will not help agencies move forward in addressing this problem. We note that the Committee bill allocates funds from the emergency reserve for Treasury and other agency Year 2000 (Y2K) needs. If the emergency reserve is not funded, the Congress will need to find other ways to fund Treasury's critical Y2K needs."

The White House reminded the House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-New York), that there are roughly 500 days until January 1, 2000, and that it is high time to fund the conversion efforts needed to fix government computer systems.

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 reported earlier, fixing the federal Year 2000 problem is expected to cost close to $5 billion, according to Office of Management and Budget estimates.

The funding includes part or all of a $3.2 billion pool of money set aside for unanticipated contingency costs to cover anything from military expenditures to the Year 2000 bug, said Jack Gribben, a spokesperson for the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. It also included a $2.25 billion emergency reserve fund created by the Senate Appropriations Committee, but this was struck down yesterday by the committee.

The committee's spokesperson said the decision to cut the funding was made with the understanding that Republicans will seek other means to fund the government's Y2K efforts after the summer recess.