U.S. cities lag in Y2K preparations

Only 2 of 21 major U.S. cities have completed their efforts to prepare for the Year 2000 technology problem, according to a congressional audit.

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Only 2 of 21 major U.S. cities have completed their efforts to prepare for the Year 2000 technology problem, according to a congressional audit released today.

Boston and Dallas finished their preparations this month, while nine other cities--New York; Houston, San Diego and San Jose, California; Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Florida; Milwaukee, and Memphis, Tennessee--said they expect to completeBack to Year 2000 Index Page their Y2K work no later than September 30, according to a survey conducted by the US General Accounting Office (GAO), the auditing arm of Congress.

Two cities--Baltimore and El Paso, Texas--said they won't be finished until December, the last month of the year.

The remaining 10 cities--San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, San Antonio, Detroit, and Columbus, Ohio--are set to finish by November.

The GAO, which reported the findings to The Special Senate on the Year 2000 Technology Problem panel monitoring 2000 readiness, expressed concerns about the laggards.

"Completing Y2K activities in the last months of the year increases the risk that key services will not be Y2K ready in time for 2000 because there will not be enough time to deal with unanticipated complications," said Joel Willemssen, head of the GAO's Civil Agencies Information Accounting and Information Management Division, Reuters reported.

In a letter to the heads of the Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, Willemssen said in most cities, the majority of city services were scheduled to be completed before the end of the year.

On average, cities reported completing work for 45 percent of the key service areas for which they had some responsibility. They also stated that work is well underway on the remaining services, with most saying work on their transportation and telecommunication systems is already complete, according to the audit.

Relatively few, however, reported completing their portions of water and wastewater treatment systems, public building systems, and emergency service systems.

"Given the amount of Y2K work remaining to be done in the last months of the year, contingency plans are critical to ensure that cities will continue to provide key services through the Year 2000 date change," Willemssen stated in the letter.

Seven cities reported completing Y2K contingency plans, while 14 cities reported that their plans are still being developed. In addition, 20 of the 21 largest cities have either tested or plan to test their contingency plans.

During phone interviews between June 28 and July 9, 1999 to key city officials in the 21 major cities surveyed, the GAO requested information on the Y2K status of systems supporting key city services, like electrical power, water and wastewater, telecommunications, emergency services, hospitals and healthcare facilities, transportation, public buildings, and city government services.

The Year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many computers now must be modified, or they may mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900 and may not be able to function at all.