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Small firms too busy for Y2K

The Small Business Administration launches a widespread education effort on the problem, citing lack of awareness.

Small business owners are too caught up in everyday work to be worried about the Year 2000 technology problem, officials at a recent congressional hearing said yesterday.

The lack of awareness among small business owners has prompted the Small Business Administration (SBA) to launch a widespread education effort, a senior official of the agency told the House Committee on Small Business.

According to National Federation of Independent Business figures released at the hearing, only one in four small business owners consider Y2K a serious problem.

"We wanted to bring the seriousness of this problem to the attention of small business owners without creating undue panic," said Fred Hochberg, deputy administrator of the SBA. "In addition, by educating small businesses that they could have a problem, we can prevent them from any unnecessary expenditures toward fixing the problem."

Hochberg said his agency has prepared a series of materials to get the word out, including posters, bill inserts, fact sheets, a public service announcement, and a phone hotline. Each of these provides basic information and directs people to an SBA Web site dedicated to the Year 2000 bug.

The hearing comes in the wake of a press conference on the Y2K issue by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, who urged businesses to start concentrating on ways to solve looming Year 2000 computer problems and avoid disruptions in everything from phone service to air travel.

Clinton suggested many businesses, in particular small ones, were delaying dealing with the problem, citing a Wells Fargo bank survey that said of the small businesses that know about the problem, roughly half intended to do nothing about it.

At yesterday's hearing, Hochberg said his agency is telling businesses that it is never too soon to begin evaluating one's vulnerability to the Year 2000 bug.

"This is not just a computer problem?as equipment with embedded computer chips could also be at risk," he explained. "Anything that uses a calendar or date record, rather than a clock or time record could should be assessed. Thorough assessment of elevators, machinery, and other mechanisms is key."

He concluded by saying SBA recognizes that some businesses may be Year 2000 compliant already. However, the risks are too great to make that assumption without a thorough assessment. Small business owners need to make informed decisions about the issue, he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.