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U.N. passes Year 2000 appeal

The organization passes resolution on the Year 2000 problem, appealing to all member states to cooperate on initiatives.

The United Nations today passed a resolution on the Year 2000 technology problem, appealing to all member states to cooperate on global awareness initiatives and calling upon government, the public, and the private sector to share their experiences in addressing the issue.

The resolution, which was adopted by the General Assembly, also asks the organization's secretary general to take measures to ensure that the U.N.'s own computer systems are Y2K-compliant and to put in place conversion assistance guidelines for member states. It also requests the secretary-general to report to the General Assembly in September on the steps taken within the U.N. computer system and with member states to resolve the problem.

The resolution comes on the heels of a recently launched global online conference on the Year 2000 problem, sponsored by the Group of Eight (G8) and directly supervised by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).

The Year 2000 issue, or the millennium bug, stems from shortcuts taken by computer programmers in the 1970s and 1980s. The programmers tried to save valuable memory by abbreviating dates to the last two digits. Many computers still use this two-digit formula and are in danger of crashing when they enter the next century because they will interpret the year 2000 as 1900.

If computers are not reprogrammed, the consequences could be calamitous. Experts say the bug could shut down companies, jam communications, and even freeze world trade if it is not eradicated.

The U.N. resolution was praised by the White House's point man on the computer glitch, John Koskinen. "It is an important step in our efforts to increase awareness of Y2K outside of the United States and to encourage other nations to take immediate measures to address the problem," he said, speaking on behalf of the Clinton administration.

Koskinen had been meeting with U.N. officials over the past month to help push for and draft the resolution proposal, according to government sources. "It is crucial that all nations work to reduce the risk of system failures in key areas such as telecommunications, banking, and transportation, where failures in one country could significantly affect the world community."

The chief sponsor of the resolution within the U.N. was Ambassador Ahmed Kamal of Pakistan, who couldn't be reached for comment.

Resolution 98-17104(E) also asks that the secretary general make sure all parts of the U.N. ensures that all computers and equipment with embedded microprocessors are Y2K-compliant well before the target date by drawing up an action plan.

In addition, it asks the secretary general to monitor actual and potential sources of funding to support the compliance efforts of the developing countries and countries with economies in transition, namely former Soviet bloc states, and to facilitate the dissemination of relevant information on those funding possibilities to the member states.

"We need to be like Paul Revere on this issue," said Marvin Fast, The press secretary for Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), who is the vice chairman for the Senate Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. "We also need to see concrete action on this. Collaborating on this is very important so when the ball drops in 2000, we don't drop the ball."

Ambassador Richard Sklar, the U.S. representative to the United Nations who helped draft the resolution, told the assembly how important it is to have the U.N. involved in the global effort to quash the Year 200 bug. "In a world vastly dependent upon electronic systems for the processing and exchange of financial and other data, it is imperative that nations address the year 2000 problem now," he said in a statement.

He added that the resolution recognizes that the problem affects more than just large mainframe systems. "Electronic devices with date-sensitive microprocessors, or embedded chips, also are at risk. Unchecked, this so-called 'growth industry' has the potential to cause failures in everything from manufacturing equipment to traffic signals. Countries need to pay close attention to this important aspect of the Year 2000 problem."