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Federal agencies fail Year 2000 report card

June 4, 1998 - Web posted at 3:45 pm EDT

by Nancy Weil

(IDG) -- The Social Security Administration scored an "A+" for its work on the year 2000 problem. But its classmates other government departments and agencies have done such a woeful job that as a group that they earned a big fat "F" for failure this quarter from a U.S. House subcommittee that released a progress report today.

Just eight of 24 departments or agencies scored above average, with only four earning an "A." The consequences of the slipshod approach to preparing information systems to handle dates past Dec. 31, 1999, could be serious disruptions in the nation's air traffic and problems with Medicare and the federally subsidized health-care system for the elderly, according to U.S. Rep. Stephen Horn, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology.

Still, Horn said "we must not panic" with the Jan. 1, 2000, deadline approaching. "We must not become discouraged by the work that still remains. This is the time to focus, redouble our efforts and to move aggressively forward."

Congress has conducted a variety of hearings on the topic, with much attention focused on compliance by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which also is behind in its efforts and was included in the U.S. Department of Transportation's failing grade.

"Underlying this dismal [overall] grade is a disturbing slow-down in the government's rate of progress," Horn said in a written statement. "For the quarter ending Feb. 15, the government brought mission-critical systems into compliance at a rate of 9.4%; for the quarter that ended May 15, the rate of progress slowed to 7.9%. This would be discouraging in any context. Less than a year before the March 1999 (government) deadline for Y2K repairs, a reduction in productivity is deeply troubling. This trend must be reversed."

"Without dramatic improvements, the nation's air traffic could face serious disruptions for an extended period after Dec. 31, 1999," said Horn, a California Republican.

Some agencies and departments don't expect to finish dealing with year 2000 issues until years after problems are expected to arise. The Agency for International Development (AID), for instance, doesn't anticipate being finished until 2019; the State Department predicts it will be done in 2005, followed a year later by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report considered how the departments and agencies are doing with mission-critical systems. Those expecting to finish by March 31, 1999, earned a base grade of "A." Those estimating completion in 2000 or 2001 dropped to a base grade of "C," while those targeting 2002 scored a "D" and anything beyond that was considered failing.

"If there was such a thing as an 'F' minus, AID clearly deserves it for its current progress hopefully, they will improve next quarter," the subcommittee said in a written statement explaining how grades were assigned. Likewise, the Department of Energy also deserves the same awful grade, according to the report.

Base grades were affected by four additional factors contingency plans, telecommunications systems, embedded systems and external data exchange.

The report also said that government agencies and departments must test telecommunications, embedded systems and data exchanges, emphasizing the transfer of data to external systems. The latter issue has increasingly been pushed into the fore as businesses and governments step up year 2000 plans.

"It is unfortunately easy for external data that is not Y2K compliant to corrupt another computer system that is Y2K compliant," the report said.

Horn credited the Social Security Administration (SSA) for taking the lead and serving as a model for other agencies, helping some to get up to speed. But U.S. residents who receive payments from SSA shouldn't count on their checks being in the mail.

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"Social Security checks are actually issued by the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service (FMS). This is a potential bottleneck of dramatic proportions," Horn said, noting that the Treasury Department "earned a 'C' this quarter, held back by a dismal performance by FMS. Despite urgent calls for progress in March, FMS's accomplishments over the last three months have been far from reassuring. We must take action on this urgent problem."

Here's how U.S. departments and agencies stacked up:

  • "A-": General Services Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Science Foundation.

  • "B": Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

  • "C": Departments of Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

  • "C -": Office of Personnel Management, Department of the Interior.

  • "D" : Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Justice and Education.

  • "F": Environmental Protection Agency, Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Energy and Transportation, Agency for International Development.

Additional information about the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology can be found at

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