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GOP awaits Y2K encore

Republicans that had criticized the White House on the Year 2000 bug are cautiously optimistic about Clinton's speech on the issue.

Republicans who had earlier criticized the White House for not taking the Year 2000 technology bug seriously are optimistic about yesterday's speech by the president on the issue, but caution that it's only a first step.

"I am delighted that the President has addressed the year 2000 problem from the bully pulpit and identified it as a major national priority," said House Representative Steve Horn (R-California), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, in response to President Clinton's speech.

He added, however, the president must continue to speak out on this problem in his appearances across the nation. "As chief executive, President Clinton must bring more pressure to bear on federal agencies to speed up their conversion effort. One speech, even by a President, will not be enough to solve this problem."

Horn's comments come on the heels of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore's press conference yesterday addressing the Year 2000 technology problem, announcing that they would propose legislation to limit legal liability for companies that share information to fix the massive software bug.

The bug comes from vintage hardware and software formats that denote years in two-digit formats, such as 98 for 1998 and 99 for 1999. The glitch will occur in 2000, when computers are either fooled into thinking the year is 1900 or interpret the 2000 as a meaningless "00." The glitch could throw out of whack everything from bank systems to building security procedures to military attack warning technologies, critics warn.

Horn is well known as one of the first legislators to recognize the Year 2000 bug as a legitimate threat to government computer systems and the national economy, and now, every quarter, releases a report grading each government agency's progress on Y2K conversion projects. In his last report, he gave the overall effort by the federal government an "F."

He also was one of the first Republicans to criticize the administration for not moving faster and earlier on the Y2K issue.

Lately he has been joined by other Republican leaders who have begun blasting the administration, particularly vice president Al Gore, who is expected to run for president in 2000, for not acting on the issue.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) jumped in the growing Y2K political fray a few weeks ago when he publicly criticized the White House for dropping the ball on the issue, saying that the administration is presiding over "a large wreck" set to take place on January 1, 2000.

Although he didn't give an official response to the President's speech, a spokesman from Gingrich's office said the leading conservative Republican hopes that the "president and vice president are doing all they can to ensure that the Year 2000 bug," is taken care of. "Since it seems that the vice president is leading the ship on technology issue, we would expect that this will be done."

Other Republicans are following Gingrich's lead in criticizing the White House.

Even though he didn't make the President's press conference, during a press conference yesterday House majority leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said it was good that the President "is finally going to acknowledge the problem exists today, which is a very big step for the White House. They will probably also mention that mistakes were made, but they don't know when or why or by whom."

Armey is one of a handful of legislators who have dedicated a whole Web site on the Y2K issue.