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Government-wide Year 2000 Milestones

Getting Federal Computers Ready for 2000

Report of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget

February 6, 1997

The year 2000 computer problem is a seemingly simple one: assuring that computers will recognize the correct year when the year 2000 arrives. If software programs are not prepared to handle the change of date on January 1, 2000, there is a risk to government information systems and the programs they support.

This report responds to 1997 appropriations language which directs OMB to submit to the House Committee on Appropriations, the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, and the House Science Committee a report which includes: a cost estimate to ensure software code date field conversion by the year 2000; a planned strategy to ensure that all information technology, as defined by the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, purchased by an agency will operate in 2000 without technical modifications; and, a time table for implementation of the planned strategy.

The report is to be submitted with the President’s 1998 budget. (Committee Report accompanying Public Law 104-208.)

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People often use short hand to describe the year. When asked what year it is, we answer "97". When we fill in the date on paper forms we write 2/2/97. The same approach was used in designing many computer systems.

With the arrival of the year 2000, people will know that the year "00" stands for 2000. However, the hardware and software in many computer systems will not understand this new meaning. Unless they are fixed or replaced, they will fail at the turn of the century in one of three ways:

  • they will reject legitimate entries, or

  • they will compute erroneous results, or

  • they will simply not run.

Many systems which compare dates to decide which is earlier will no longer work. Comparisons of dates permeate Federal computer systems -- they are how inventories are maintained (e.g., last in, first out), how the order of filings is handled (e.g., first come, first served), and how eligibility is determined (e.g., an applicant must have filed before a certain date).

Systems which calculate length of time also may not compute accurately. Computations of length of time are common in Federal computer systems -- they are how benefits are computed (e.g., based on length of time), how eligibility is determined (e.g., based on length of service), and how expiration dates are calculated (e.g., expires after three years).

There are other possible effects of the date change in computer software, depending on the assumptions made and programming technique used by the designer of the software. For example, information relevant to a year could be found by using the year to find the information in a table. For example, information about 1997 would be at the 97th location in the table. Such a technique would fail in the year "00" because there is no 0th location.

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The potential impact on Federal programs if this problem is not corrected is substantial and potentially very serious. Federal agencies are therefore taking steps to ensure a smooth transition, and fixing the problem is generating a high level of interest and energy. The challenge for the next three years is to manage that interest and energy effectively and efficiently so that the systems upon which Americans all depend will operate smoothly through the year 2000 and beyond.

There are several unique characteristics of this problem that shape the Federal strategy for addressing it. First, it has an unmovable deadline. Unlike other computer development or maintenance activities, the deadline for fixing the year 2000 problem is not set administratively, but by the problem itself. Repairs must therefore be fully tested and implemented by December 31, 1999. This characteristic makes time the single most critical resource.

Second, unlike a normal system development or maintenance activity, many systems must be tackled concurrently. Comparisons and computations using dates permeate computer systems within the Federal government, throughout State and local governments, and in the private sector. There is thus a real potential for a substantial strain on another key resource -- expertise.

Third, complexity is increased by concurrent changes to multiple systems and elements within a system (e.g., the operating system). Because computer systems inter-operate and share data, the modified systems must be tested together. Furthermore, all of these changes must be made and tested while the current systems continue to operate.

Chief Information Officers
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Federal management of information technology has dramatically changed in the past year as a result of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 (formerly known as the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996) (40 U.S.C. 1401 et. seq.). That Act established Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in each Federal agency with responsibility for maintaining a sound information technology architecture for the agency. In addition, Executive Order No. 13011 (July 16, 1996) established the Chief Information Officers Council, chaired by OMB, as the principal interagency forum to improve agency practices on the use of information technology. Year 2000 issues have been discussed at every CIO Council meeting to date. Agency CIOs acting within their agencies and through the CIO Council will provide the leadership and assure that the work is done to address the year 2000 computer problem.

In 1995, OMB formed an interagency working group on the year 2000, chaired by a representative of the Social Security Administration. That working group was recently adopted as an official working group of the CIO Council.

Planned Strategy
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The Government’s strategy is predicated on three considerations.

First, senior agency managers will take whatever action is necessary to address the problem once they are aware of its potential consequences. Those consequences would, after all, directly affect their ability to carry out the agency’s essential functions.

Second, there can and will not be a single solution. Solving this problem requires technicians and engineers to write or revise software code and to replace hardware. A "silver bullet" is a logical impossibility. There is only a need for hard work, strategically directed, and plenty of it.

Third, given the limited amount of time, emphasis will be on mission critical systems. In many agencies such systems are large and complex, which means they will require the most time and be the most challenging to fix.

The Federal strategy relies on the newly established CIOs to direct that work and to follow industry’s best practices. Those best practices include five phases:

  • raising management awareness of the problem,

  • assessing the scope of the problem by inventorying systems and deciding which ones to change, replace or discard,

  • renovating the systems to be changed,

  • validating and testing the changed systems, and

  • implementing the revised systems (including developing a contingency plan).

Detailed steps in each phase have been developed by the interagency working group on the year 2000 and are available for agencies on a GSA sponsored year 2000 home page at

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OMB, in consultation with the CIO Council, has set government-wide milestones (shown below) for completion of the majority of the work in each phase of agency year 2000 activities. These phases, while sequential, overlap. For example, the awareness phase continues throughout the entire process.