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Feds: Are They Ready?

Readiness for the year 2000 has been a goal on Capitol Hill since the 1996 appointment of a Congressional committee whose job it is to check up on Federal departments and agencies measuring their computer preparedness. The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology addressed federal Y2K readiness last month in the form of report card on the progress toward solving the problem. The Subcommittee findings revealed that integral government agencies were not up to speed with the set deadline of March 1999 to be compliant. The Social Security Administration received an "A+" grade for the readiness of their mission critical systems but several other agencies did not fare as well. Scoring lower with a grade of "D-" was the Dept. of Defense with 59% of their systems compliant. Alarmingly the Dept. of Energy, the federal agency which oversees the electric power grids nationwide, received an "F" rating with 55% of their systems compliant. "Our job is no small task. We not only need to ensure that federal agency computer systems operate properly in the year 2000, but we also must ensure that state and local governments and even computer systems in other nations survive the bug", said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the Queens representative who has served as the Ranking Minority Member of the Congressional subcommittee. "Plain and simple, if we do not begin to fix this problem now, New Yorkers and all Americans stand to lose billions of dollars and important services because our computers will think that we have rolled back to the year 1900. Think for a minute about the chaos caused by computers that figure social security, Medicare, skyscraper elevators, airports, subway systems, utility grids and other New York City, State and federal government programs suddenly reading the year as 1900," said Maloney at a recent hearing held on the year 2000 problem, adding that "When the ball drops in Times Square on New Years Eve 1999, we must assure that the government has not dropped the ball on this bug fix."In preparation for the countdown to 2000, the U.S. government has also eased up on immigration restrictions in an effort to import computer specialists from other countries to help step up compliance efforts according to television and radio commentator Tony Brown. Brown told the Queens Courier that an easement of visa restrictions has allowed for the import of 200,000 foreigners, of which 44% are from India, to work on COBOL programs that will be affected by the millennium bug. "India was ready for this 20 years ago, they are poised to be a world power," explained Brown who added that his criticism was not of Indians but of the state of affairs in our country. "They aren’t taking jobs away from Americans, but taking jobs that Americans can’t perform, " he said. Brown stated that the recent influx of Asian Indians can be attributed as a reaction to the trend of recent years he calls virtual immigration, "where information is being downloaded to India and then back to the U.S." in an effort to step up Y2K compliance. "The U.S. is bleeding to death, we are about a million people short," said Brown who added that "a person doesn’t have to go to M.I.T. and earn a Ph.D.," to be trained to re-program computers the bug may affect. "It is a misconception that the year 2000 will only affect large organizations’ said Mitch Levine, a systems consultant with New Canaan Ct.-based Auditserve who has worked with over 40 companies world wide in helping them prepare for the potential problems of Y2K. Personal preparation is essential in getting ready for the millennium, Levine expressed. "I have purchased extra propane tanks for the barbecue and have a back-up generator for my home." Levine pointed out that to ease public tensions in the pre-millennial milieu, companies have issued statements that they have made preparations to deal with the Y2K phenomenon but added that "The big question is do you trust the statements of these companies?" "The problem lies in the fact that test equipment can’t re-create the year 2000 situation and even after trying to fix the problem most companies don’t have the support to pick up the pieces after consultants change 50% of the environment," said Levine who predicts that many companies can expect failures for the first couple of months of the millennium. Predicting a big run on banks where people may withdraw more money than actually printed for fear that there may be errors in their financial statements Levine said that "Human emotions may make it a bigger problem and escalate it a bit more." "It’s a big problem, every computer is affected by date and time," said Allison Mastriopieri, Queens Courier Webmaster and designer of websites for Active Nature Sound & Web Design in Bayside. "We shouldn’t go into a panic, but everyone should keep printouts of their bank statements and do their homework," she said.

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