Originally created 09/16/97

Progress on computer glitch lacking, congressman says



WASHINGTON (AP) - The Clinton administration is moving too slowly to repair a computer problem that threatens to disrupt the government and affect millions of people unless fixed by 2000, several Republican lawmakers said Monday.

The administration denied it was dragging its feet.

But Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., chairman of the House subcommittee on government management, information and technology, said Clinton officials had failed to proceed with the appropriate "sense of urgency."

"Jan. 1, 2000, is the one government deadline that cannot be allowed to slip," said Horn, who has held hearings on the issue and was accompanied at the news conference by two other Republican House members. "The administration cannot issue an executive order postponing the millennium."

At issue are computer systems that use two digits to indicate the year, such as "97" for 1997. Unless the computers are reprogrammed or replaced, the year 2000 - or 00 - will be treated as 1900, disrupting everything from benefit checks to food safety inspections, the lawmakers contend.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has identified 8,562 separate "mission critical" systems - those that must function for a department or agency to do its business. Three-fourth of the systems are being repaired or replaced and 19 percent have no year 2000 problems.

"We've known it's been coming," said Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md., who chairs the House technology subcommittee. "It's time to do more."

Horn, who rated the progress of 24 federal departments and agencies on their handling the issue, said half of the offices had missed a June deadline for finding all of their year 2000 computer problems.

Sally Katzen, administrator for information and regulatory affairs at the OMB, said in an interview the administration is committed to "making sure that programs, services and benefits are available and continue uninterrupted for the American people before, during and after the millennium."

As officials begin to plan for the 1999 fiscal year, Katzen said the OMB had decided against funding requests from four agencies for computer technology spending that is unrelated to fixing the 2000 problem, unless they can prove such spending is imperative. The OMB, in a quarterly report on the problem that was delivered to Congress on Monday, said the Agriculture, Education, Transportation departments and the Agency for International Development had shown "insufficient evidence of progress."

The OMB added that it had concerns about 12 other agencies, despite progress, and that the remaining eight offices appeared to be making headway.

Horn also criticized administration estimates for fixing the problem. Initially pegged at $2.3 billion, the figure recently was adjusted to $3.8 billion and is expected to rise. Katzen said she always has said the figures were preliminary and expected to edge upward with time.

"I appreciate Mr. Horn's involvement in this and his reinforcing our efforts in this regard, but at this point we are taking the actions that we think are appropriate," she said. "If we think that additional steps are necessary we will take them because we will fix the system."

Meanwhile, Horn gave just one agency, the Social Security Administration, a top score of A-minus, down from the A on his first report card last year.

The majority of departments - 16 - received C's and D's.

Horn also issued three F's - to the Agency for International Development and the departments of Transportation and Education.

He said one-fifth of the agencies had tried to correct the problems and just 14 percent had tested the new systems to see if they worked.