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Social Security not bug-free yet

Although the agency says it has cleansed its own computer system of the Y2K bug, its chief says there is still work to be done with financial agencies.

    Although the Social Security Administration yesterday said it has cleansed its computer system of the Y2K technology glitch, the agency's chief acknowledged there is still work to be done with the financial agencies it uses to get checks to elderly Americans.

    During an interview on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Kenneth Apfel, told Lehrer his agency is still working with the banking community because about 75 percent of all social security checks are electronically transferred to accounts.

    He said the banking community is way ahead of the Y2K problem, but shied away from saying the complete system, end-to-end, is compliant.

    Using the electrical payment system, the Social Security Administration allots the Social Security funds electronically to specific accounts in private banks through a network maintained and managed by the Treasury Department's Financial Management Services and the federal bank system.

    Although the Social Security's independent systems are now Y2K compliant, computers that are tied into the electronic payment system, via banks and other financial systems, are not and could affect how social security payments get to their final destination.

    Spokespeople for the Social Security Administration and the Treasury Department today insisted the agencies are working with banks "downstream" that are not yet Y2K compliant and are "urging them" to get the job done as quickly as possible.

    The Social Security Administration yesterday and the Treasury Department's Financial Management Services announced that their computer systems beat the federal government compliance deadline for March 1999 and will not crash come the year 2000. The agencies also promised elderly Americans that their social security funds will not be stymied by Y2K.

    Because figures from the federal government as to how many banks are not yet Y2K compliant were not readily available, the agencies did not say how much more time it will take before the whole Social Security electronic payment system--from government to recipient bank account--will be fully compliant.

    The millennium bug refers to the fact that most computers are programmed to register only the last two digits of the year, meaning that "2000" may be read as "1900." If left uncorrected, such programs could generate errors and scramble the computers that companies use to keep track of customers, run their payrolls, and handle their accounts.

    There are only 367 days left until the year 2000.