Fed plans bug awareness week

The Clinton administration is set to launch National Y2K Action Week in an effort to rally small and medium-sized businesses.

3 min read
Looking to boost awareness of the Year 2000 technology problem in small and medium-sized businesses, the Clinton administration is set to launch next week's National Y2K Action Week.

At a press conference today, the White House pointman on Y2K, John Koskinen, cited his ongoing concerns about the lack of preparations for the Year 2000 computer problem among many of the country's small and medium-sized businesses, and joined senior officials from the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration in outlining the goals and schedule of next week's events.

During the week, federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Social Security Administration, will conduct hundreds of educational events and outreach activities through their national field offices targeted at managers of small and midsized businesses to help them address the Year 2000 problem. Materials promoting the week-long event will appear in post offices and in major newspapers around the country.

"Let no one be mistaken. The Y2K problem could spell doom for any small or medium-sized company that isn't prepared," Koskinen, the chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, said in a statement prepared for the press conference. "The goal of this week is to give these businesses the informational tools they need to help ensure that their systems are ready for January 1, 2000."

The field office efforts will focus on assisting managers to assess how their businesses may be vulnerable to the Y2K problem, both in their own systems and embedded chips and in relationships with outside product and service providers; develop strategies for remediation and replacement work; find technical resources for addressing the problem; and come up with contingency plans, according to the council.

The council is also encouraging industry groups, companies, and state and local governments with whom it has been working to increase awareness of the problem, to support the week by participating in the field office efforts.

The Year 2000 bug originated in the design of the first computer programs. Those programs, which remain integrated into a large percentage of computerized equipment used today, register each year using a simple two-digit number. Therefore, when "00" rolls around on January 1, 2000, experts worry that many computers will identify the date as 1900--causing either delays, confused data, or complete breakdowns.

The Commerce Department will use its network of field offices to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to act on the Y2K problem. The department is in a good position to promote Y2K action among small and medium-sized manufacturers and minority-owned businesses through its 400 so-called manufacturing extension partnership offices, 104 export assistance centers, and 65 minority business development centers, many of which will be holding events next week, according to Commerce officials.

"While publicity about the Year 2000 problem is widespread, many small and medium-sized businesses have not yet assessed their risk," Commerce secretary William Daley said during today's press conference. "But time is running out. If these firms do not pay attention to this potential problem today, they risk losing customers or even their business."