Congress's Y2K push

Before Congress adjourns, heavy debate on whether to use surplus budget funds for Y2K is expected.

3 min read
Before Congress adjourns tomorrow, there is likely to be heavy debate on whether to use surplus budget funds for Y2K expenses, and the president is expected to sign off on the recently passed Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act.

While Republicans and Democrats, for the most part, agree that Y2K is a major issue facing the nation, they differ on how to pay for converting government computers, how much companies should be protected from litigation surrounding the technology problem, and who should be providing leadership on the issue.

One of the biggest debates brewing at this moment is over how to fund the renovation of government computers, which the government estimates will cost $5 billion.

The Clinton administration would like to use the budget surplus to pay for some of those costs, while the GOP wants to leave the surplus for tax breaks rather than government spending.

Because the budget debate is still continuing on the floor, congressional staff sources told CNET News.com that it is too hard to tell how the funding will be appropriated at this time.

Another proposal that is pending approval is the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem's recently adopted idea to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to organize and run an emergency early warning system for Y2K.

Committee staffers said the committee is expected to send legislation to Congress that would ask FEMA to be the source of the early warning system. FEMA will be asked to organize a coordinating group to set up the system.

Although details are still in the works, the system would send out warnings if failures in the nation's emergency services occur, one staffer said. In an effort to get the early warning system off the ground as soon as possible, the committee hopes to have the legislation in Congress by next week.

Despite these ongoing debates, Congress has passed legislation that would limit lawsuits against corporations dealing with Y2K problems.

The legislation, backed by a bipartisan group of senators and the Clinton administration, is intended to encourage greater disclosure by businesses and others of plans to wipe out the dreaded millennium bug. It was sent by Congress to the White House yesterday, Senate staffers said.

The Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act provides limited liability protections to encourage companies to share information about products, methods, and best practices, while protecting consumers from misleading statements. But the bill does not provide liability protections for failures that may arise from Year 2000 problems, such as selling products that do not work.

For the next session, the Senate special committee plans to take up the food industry as well as figure out its next agenda, said the committee's minority senior staff member Wilke Greene. "I think the Year 2000 committee needs to reassess where it goes next," he noted.

Greene pointed out that the last session of Congress saw the birth of a handful of committees in both the House and Senate to address the issue.

Another Y2K bill to be proposed in the House next session, which begins January 1, will demand that the executive branch of government take on more of a leadership role in tackling the problem. Still in its infancy stages, the bill would give the executive branch more responsibility by allowing the Office of Management and Budget to set more deadlines for agencies submitting their Y2K status reports, for instance.