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Government's Y2K progress slows

In the latest round of quarterly reports on its efforts to remedy the Year 2000 computer problems the government gets a failing grade.

The latest round of quarterly reports on the federal government's efforts to remedy the Year 2000 computer problems began on a sour note yesterday, as a U.S. House subcommittee released a progress report giving the government a failing grade.

According to Rep. Stephen Horn (R-California), chairman of the subcommittee that put out the report, for the latest quarter ending May 15, the government's 24 largest departments' progress in bringing mission-critical systems into Year 2000 compliance slowed to 7.9 percent. During the quarter ended February 15, departments were making progress at a rate of 9.4 percent.

"Overall, the federal government earned an 'F.' Underlying this dismal grade is a disturbing slow-down in the government's rate of progress," Horn said in a statement.

The worst case was the Department of Transportation, which earned a grade of "F," compared to the Social Security Administration which earned the highest out of the 24 agencies, an "A+."

Other agencies scoring an "F," included: the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, the Health and Human Services Department, the Energy Department, and the Agency for International Development.

The report is the first of two released by federal bodies that assess the government's progress in bringing mission-critical computer systems into Year 2000 compliance. The next report, also due out this week, is being compiled by the Office of Management and Budget.

Because software manufacturers, to save space, used only the last two digits to mark the year, at the turn of the century computers may mistakenly read the year 2000 as a meaningless "00" or 1900. That could cause computers to malfunction or shut down.

The latest synopsis of the federal government's Y2K progress surprised observers, who say they now expect the same poor assessment from the OMB report as well.

"I wasn't expecting this," said Edward Yardeni, chief economist for Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and an outspoken analyst of the Year 2000 problem. The OMB report will "absolutely" have the same results because Horn uses the same data OMB uses for its report, he added.

Horn said the progress report "would be discouraging in any context. Less than a year before the March 1999 deadline for Y2K repairs, a reduction in productivity is deeply troubling. This trend must be reversed."

Although more reports are expected before the end of the year, the White House's Y2K czar said a more realistic assessment of the impact the millennium bug will have on the government's information systems will be available in the first quarter of 1999.

By that time, John Koskinen, the advisor to President Bill Clinton on the Y2K issue, said most government and private agencies working on solving the problem would have initialized testing on their systems and, consequently, would be able to provide more detailed information about the difficulties that could arise.

In related news, a hearing before the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Services and Technology on the Year 2000 problem that was scheduled for today has been postponed until later this month due to the recent death of former Arizona senator and one-time presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.