January 4, 1998 in Nation/World

Gop Zeroes In On Clinton’s Response To ‘2000’ Glitch Republicans Say President Should Make Computer-Fix ‘Highest Priority’

Rajiv Chandrasekaran Washington Post
 

Congressional Republicans Saturday criticized the Clinton administration’s efforts to fix the “year 2000” glitch in government computers, accusing the White House of “dropping the ball” in alerting people to the issue and warning that many federal agencies will face system failures at the current pace of repairs.

“Is our nation ready for this millennium bug? Frankly, no,” Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-Md., said in the weekly Republican radio address.

Morella called on Clinton to issue an executive order making year 2000 fixes the “highest priority” for federal agencies. She also urged the president to appoint a senior administration official to direct government and private sector date-repair efforts.

“The administration is dropping the ball,” Morella said. “We must have the president’s help.”

Many large computer systems use a two-digit dating system that assumes that 1 and 9 are the first two digits of the year. Without specialized reprogramming, the systems will recognize “00” not as 2000 but 1900, a glitch that could cause the computers either to stop working or to start generating erroneous data.

The federal government has a large proportion of older computer systems that are more prone to the date problem, according to technology specialists. If they aren’t fixed in time, Morella said, “affected could be critical government functions, such as air traffic control, veterans’ benefits, Social Security (payments) and student loans.”

“The consequences could be catastrophic, rendering useless much of the nation’s date-sensitive computer data,” said Morella, who chairs the House subcommittee on technology.

Morella’s comments reflect a more strident and public tone on the issue among Republicans. Although a handful of GOP legislators have criticized the administration’s handling of the problem over the past year, most of that criticism has occurred at small congressional subcommittee hearings.

A report issued last month by the Office of Management and Budget, which is supervising the date-conversion work in the executive branch, said “a vast amount of work remains” and warned that some agencies still may be underestimating the costs involved. OMB has estimated that, as of Nov. 15, it will cost $3.9 billion to make the repairs across the federal government.

Only 10 percent of the government’s affected computers have been repaired and fully tested, the report said.

An OMB spokesman Saturday defended the administration’s handling of the repair work. “We are moving ever more aggressively to address this challenge, and we are absolutely determined to do whatever it takes to meet it head-on,” said the spokesman, Lawrence J. Haas. At the same time, he said the administration will continue “stepping up our efforts so we will finish on time.”


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