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Social Security stamps out Y2K bug

The White House is claiming an early victory against the Year 2000 glitch in its ongoing battle to bring federal government computer systems into compliance.

    The White House is claiming an early victory against the Year 2000 technology problem in its ongoing battle to bring federal government computer systems into compliance.

    President Bill Clinton today announced that the Treasury Department's Social Security system beat the federal government compliance deadline for March 1999 and will not crash come the year 2000, and promised elderly Americans that their Social Security funds will not be stymied by Y2K.

    "The Social Back to Year 2000 Index Page Security system is now 100 percent compliant with our standards and safeguards for the year 2000," Clinton said during a press conference today. "To make absolutely certain, the system has been tested and validated by a panel of independent experts; the system works, it is secure. And therefore, older Americans can feel more secure."

    Along with the Social Security Administration, the president commended the Financial Management Service, also part of the Treasury Department, for bringing their systems into compliance.

    "The Social Security Agency was the very first one to start work on the Y2K problem; it's been a leader and a model ever since. They couldn't have done it, these two agencies, if they hadn't worked as a team. Social Security generates the Social Security payments; the Financial Management Services issues those payments. They are in this together."

    Social Security commissioner Kenneth Apfel briefed the president prior to the White House event today.

    "We have about 30-plus million lines that we have been working on to fix this issue and hundreds of people on the staff have been spending time on it, but it's now resolved,'' Apfel told NBC's Today show.

    The Year 2000 or Y2K problem, also called the millennium bug, stems from an old programming shortcut that resulted in many computers being unable to recognize the date change of the new century, threatening turmoil. If left uncorrected, some computers could treat the year 2000 as the year 1900, generating errors or system crashes.

    Apfel said his agency tackled the problem through "plain old-fashioned hard work" and by fooling the systems with tests that simulated the year 2000 date change. The immediate beneficiaries will be the estimated 46 million Americans who rely on Social Security checks each month.

    "We had to bring in an independent contractor working with the Treasury Department and the Social Security Administration and do an outside evaluation and make sure that those checks were going to work, and I can tell you that we just passed that [test] with flying colors," Apfel said.

    Today's announcement by the administration comes just weeks after the Office of Management and Budget released its seventh quarterly report reviewing federal agencies' progress on the Year 2000 technology problem. Although pleased with the progress that most federal government agencies have made in bringing their computers into Y2K compliance, OMB officials said there are still several agencies facing "significant challenges" in preparing their systems for the year 2000.

    For the first time since the OMB began reporting on Y2K status of federal government computers, the administration has acknowledged that some agencies may not make the March 1999 deadline for Year 2000 compliance, and has urged agencies to develop contingency plans for systems that are not expected to be ready by that deadline.

    The nearness of the upcoming deadline, the slowness of other agencies to make their systems compliant, and the fact that 2000 is just 368 days away is why today's announcement by the Treasury garnered a presidential spotlight.

    "Indeed, we're all in this together. This involves not just federal agencies, but everyone who depends upon a computer, which is every one directly or indirectly. Federal and state governments and local governments, businesses large and small--the year 2000 problem reveals the connections between all of us," Clinton said.

    Reuters contributed to this report.