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Y2K problems could close Defense Dept. chemical plant

January 11, 1999
Web posted at: 5:00 PM EST

by Daniel Verton

Federal Computer Week

(IDG) -- Officials at an Army chemical disposal site for nerve gas and blister agents have seriously mismanaged Year 2000 fixes to critical computer systems, raising the possibility that the government will shut down the site at a cost of $2 million a week, according to a recently released report.

The Defense Department's Inspector General reported that the Army's project manager for the Johnston Atoll Agent Disposal System did not begin checking until last summer for Year 2000 bugs in its critical computer systems. The systems monitor air quality, process data and control code at Johnston Atoll, which is more than 700 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, and consists of four islands. One of the islands, Johnston Island, served as the military's atmospheric nuclear testing range for more than three decades. The Army began to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons in June 1990 and expects to complete its operations shortly after 2000.

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In addition, the program office failed to prepare necessary documentation for Year 2000 fixes and has yet to develop a contingency plan, a risk management plan and a system testing plan, according to the DOD IG. The report also condemned the Army for incorrectly reporting the status of systems in the required monthly report to DOD.

"The Army faces increased risk that it may not be able to implement corrections before the turn of the century," resulting perhaps in the "temporary closure of the Johnston Atoll Disposal System at a weekly cost of $2 million," the report concluded.

The Army Program Office for Chemical Demilitarization at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., is responsible for about 90 Automatic Continuous Air Monitoring systems throughout the facility. A spokesman for the Army's Chemical Stockpile Disposal Project Office said that although the Army got a late start on addressing the Year 2000 issue, they now have a schedule to fix computers and have no plans to shut down the site. However, the spokesman said the project office will not meet the Office of Management and Budget's March 31 deadline to have computer systems fixed, tested and operational. "All of our mission-critical computer systems will be Y2K-compliant before the turn of the century," the spokesman said.

According to the IG, the Army is only in the initial stages of its Year 2000 planning and still has not determined how to correct the problems with some of its critical systems.

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