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Government scores "D" on Y2K readiness

Several federal government agencies continue to struggle with Y2K preparations, causing the lead House representative on Y2K to assign the government a grade of "D" this quarter.

Several federal government agencies continue to struggle with making their computers ready for the Year 2000, causing the lead U.S. House representative on Y2K to assign the government a grade of "D" this quarter.

"Unfortunately, the federal government has not made enough progress since the last report card when it also received a 'D'," said Rep. Stephen Horn (R-California) in a statement. "Executive branch departments and agencies are responding too slowly in assessing and repairing their mission-critical systems, their telecommunications equipment..., embedded chip systems, exchanges."

Horn, who is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, said the problems agencies face extend to their interaction with other federal agencies or the clients they serve, be they states, localities, or nongovernment sources. At the current rate, nearly one-third of mission-critical systems will not meet the president's March 1999 deadline for being Year 2000 compliant, he said.

He gave eight agencies an improved grade from August, while marking down only one: The Defense Department fell from "D" to "D-." But he said the overall administration grade was still a "D" because many of the largest agencies were among the worst performers. He gave failing grades to the departments of Justice, Energy, State, and Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare.

The Health and Human Services Department, which has been on Horn's "Watch List," again received an "F." He said that Health and Human Services' HealthBack to Year 2000 Index Page Care Financing Administration (HCFA), the entity that administers the Medicare program, is mainly to blame for the agency's failing grade. HCFA has more than 100 mission critical systems and only 7 are Year 2000 compliant.

"If HCFA does not accelerate its efforts dramatically, failure of Medicare's systems is inevitable and thus the ability to provide payments for benefits and services will be jeopardized," Horn warned.

Among some of the other agencies that received failing grades for their Y2K efforts were Energy, Justice, and State. These are the same grades they received in August as well.

The office of the president's point man on Y2K, John Koskinen, and chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, is disputing the Republican congressman's assessment, saying the report card understates the progress being made and predicted that almost all federal "mission-critical" computer systems will be ready for the new millennium.

However, assertions by Horn and others that some agencies are so far behind that they may not be able to meet the government's March 1998 deadline for fixing their systems were not dismissed by Koskinen's office.

"There are some systems that don't look like they will make the March deadline," said the President's Council spokesman Jack Gribben. "That's why we moved the original deadline from November to March. We expect most agencies to meet the deadline."

Horn on the other hand estimates that nearly one-third of the government's mission critical systems will not be Year 2000 compliant by the March deadline. And he said federal systems need to be updated by this deadline to ensure sufficient testing of multiple systems. "This deadline can not be extended," Horn said.