Year 2000 Milestones
Federal Computers Ready for 2000
of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget
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.
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.
report is to be submitted with the Presidents 1998 budget.
(Committee Report accompanying Public Law 104-208.)
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
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
will reject legitimate entries, or
will compute erroneous results, or
will simply not run.
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).
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Governments strategy is predicated on three considerations.
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 agencys essential functions.
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.
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
Federal strategy relies on the newly established CIOs to direct
that work and to follow industrys best practices. Those best
practices include five phases:
management awareness of the problem,
the scope of the problem by inventorying systems and deciding
which ones to change, replace or discard,
the systems to be changed,
and testing the changed systems, and
the revised systems (including developing a contingency plan).
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 http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov.
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.