2000: government has date with history

The transition from the year 1999 to 2000 is becoming such a hassle that the government is going to step in.

2 min read
The transition from the year 1999 to 2000 is looking like such a hassle that the government has decided it needs to step in.

A group of industry representatives from agencies including the Social Security Administration and the Treasury Department met with a House of Representatives panel yesterday led by Congressman Stephen Horn (R-California), chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, to argue that the government must do something to prevent problems in outdated computer programs when the calendar rolls around to the year 2000.

At that time, many computer applications will no longer be able to tell the correct date. To save coding time and storage space, many applications were designed to eliminate the first two numbers of a date. For example, 1990 would read as 90 and 1996 would read as 96. So when the year 2000 arrives, most computers will read 1900. And because some applications use date fields in every aspect of the program, the revisions needed to correct the problem aren't necessarily trivial.

"Unless an effective response is soon initiated, on the first day of year 2000, private industry and government computer systems could malfunction," Horn said. "This failure could result in the erasing of database systems and the elimination of money transfers, including those which send checks to Social Security benefit recipients."

The House panel and the financial industry are trying to come up with a plan to prevent the problem, but no decisions on government action have been taken. Representatives from the Gartner Group testified that an estimated $30 billion will be needed to fund the tab for revisions in government agency applications alone and that $600 billion will be needed to remedy the problem worldwide.