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While the corporate world rushes to address the year 2000 glitch, the federal government remains woefully unprepared to deal with it.

3 min read
The day after the nation celebrates the year 2000, many Americans will be rudely awakened to find that their tax returns aren't being processed and their drivers' licenses and credit cards have expired.

While the corporate world is rushing to deal with the widely publicized glitch, the federal government remains woefully unprepared to deal with it. And the longer it waits, the more taxpayers will have to pay for the problem, which is already estimated to cost billions of dollars.

The problem stems from the fact that most existing software has the year represented in a two-character field. For example, 1996 reads as 96. So when the year 2000 arrives, most computers will read 00 as 1900. To fix the problem, thousands of programs and million of lines of code need to be examined.

So far, only 6 of 24 federal agencies are prepared to deal with the problem, according to the a House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee, which held hearings yesterday to discuss the problem with expert witnesses and representatives of state governments.

What would seem to be a simple matter of accounting has become one of the most significant changes ever faced by the Information Technology Industry and will have a huge impact on corporate applications and system software--even threatening to put some companies out of business.

The year 2000, only three years and 110 days away, could cost the federal government an estimated $30 billion in applications alone, according to the Gartner Group. A Fortune 1,000 company can expect to spend $1 to $1.50 per line of code to fix, which translates into about $50 million to $100 million or more for each company.

In April, the House subcommittee met to argue that the government must step in and do something to prevent the problem.

Many agencies appear to be "unable to meet the challenges of the 21st century because of a lack of awareness and preparedness," Representative Stephen Horn (R-California), chairman of the subcommittee said at the hearing.

Horn also was given updates on federal agency preparedness. Agencies were given "grades" on how ready they are for the deadline. The Social Security Administration and Small Business Administration received an A, but the Commerce Department got a D. The Treasury and Labor departments both received an F.

"Some agencies are doing well, but a lot of agencies are not addressing the problem," Mark Uncapher, counsel of the subcommitte said today. "In some cases, the agencies haven't put anyone in charge to deal with this yet."

For now, the subcommittee requested that each agency come up with an office management budget and an update status report by November 1. "We expect the agencies to have made more progress by then," Uncapher said. "Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet and no single solution to this problem."

But, some say there is a solution.

"Medium-sized companies will spend two to three years addressing the problem," said William Ulrich, chairman of the Year 2000 Conference & Expo, which will be held in San Francisco tomorrow. "It will take larger companies three to five years or even longer, but it is possible. "For the most part, it is a highly labor intensive effort that's going to take hundreds of thousands of technical programmers."

The Year 2000 conference is dedicated to building a communications vehicle for people in the field to see how others are addressing the problem, Ulrich said. The exhibit showcase will offer 30 Year 2000 solutuion providers, tool vendors, and system integrators. Participating companies include IBM, Computer Associates, Coopers & Lybrand, and Intersolv.