Originally created 11/28/98

Nuclear agency lacked Y2K check



WASHINGTON -- The U.S. agency managing the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile is testing its most critical computers, after Pentagon inspectors discovered nobody had verified whether key systems could withstand year 2000 problems.

The Defense Special Weapons Agency wasn't alone in certifying computers Y2K safe without independent testing, said the Pentagon's Inspector General's Office, which found only 25 percent of the agency's "mission critical" defense computer systems had been tested.

Navy Capt. Michael Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday that the Defense Department is systematically addressing the Y2K challenge and has conducted more than 200 audits in the past year to ensure officials are conducting proper tests.

"We view it as we do any kind of war fighting situation," Doubleday said, noting that year 2000 testing has become part of routine Pentagon operations and training.

Lt. Col. Patrick Sivigny, another Defense Department spokesman, noted that any computer failure by the nuclear stockpile agency wouldn't affect the nation's ability to defend itself. "This has nothing to do with command and control of nuclear weapons," he said.

The Defense Special Weapons Agency -- which was absorbed into a new Defense Threat Reduction Agency on Oct. 1 -- has managed and tested the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile since 1947. It also verifies arms control treaties and pacts.

The Pentagon, which operates about 40 percent of computers that the U.S. government considers critical to carrying out the government's mission, has been trying for several years to ensure systems don't crash when the clock turns from 1999 to the year 2000.

Many computers are programmed to recognize only the last two digits of a year. So when "00" pops up on Jan. 1, 2000, it could be interpreted as 1900 -- which could cause turmoil in how data is analyzed or could result in freeze-ups or massive malfunctions.

The weapons agency, according to an Oct. 30 inspector's general audit, did not complete independent testing of three critical systems before classifying them Y2K compliant as required by a Defense Department management plan. The agency has since tested two of those but still needs to test the third, according to the report.

On its own, the weapons agency tested the critical Nuclear Management Information System and two of 10 non-critical systems, all classified as Y2K compliant, the audit said.

The agency agreed with the audit findings, although its acting director, George Ullrich, said in a Sept. 30 letter to the IG's office that agency officials had been unaware that independent testing was needed to verify a system wouldn't crash in the year 2000.

Instead, agency officials believed "systems could be `self-certified' with the aid of a checklist," Ullrich wrote, noting that Pentagon policy before April 1997 did not require testing.

The inspector general noted in a June 5 report that only 25 percent of the 430 critical Pentagon computer systems had been tested before certified as Y2K complaint.

As a result, the report warned, "systems may unexpectedly fail because they were classified as Y2K compliant without adequate basis."