Year 2000 Computing Challenge

Readiness Improving, But Critical Risks Remain Gao ID: T-AIMD-99-49 January 20, 1999

The federal government, with its dependence on large-scale, complex computer systems to deliver vital public services, faces an especially enormous and difficult task in overcoming the Year 2000 computing problem. Unless adequately addressed, Year 2000 problems could seriously disrupt key federal operations--from national defense to benefits payments to air traffic control. Although the government's preparedness to deal with the Year 2000 problem has improved markedly during the past two years, significant challenges remain and time is running out. Complete and thorough Year 2000 testing is essential to ensure that new or modified systems are able to process dates correctly and that technology-dependent services operate reliably after the turn of the century. Moreover, adequate business continuity and contingency plans must be in place throughout government. The scope of the Year 2000 problem extends well beyond federal operations, however, affecting both the U.S. and the global economies. In concert with GAO's recommendations, the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion has been reaching out to the private sector, state and local governments, and other countries to increase awareness of the problem. The Council has also begun to address the readiness of specific economic sectors, including power, water, telecommunications, health care, and emergency services. At this juncture, however, a comprehensive picture of the nation's readiness is lacking. Much more needs to be done--both domestically and internationally--to determine readiness and prepare contingency plans.

GAO noted that: (1) since February 1997, action to address the year 2000 threat has intensified; (2) in response to a growing recognition of the challenge and urging from congressional leaders and others, the administration strengthened the government's year 2000 preparation, and expanded its outlook beyond federal agencies; (3) the Office of Management and Budget has tightened requirements on agency reporting of year 2000 progress; (4) as federal agencies have more fully realized the complexities and extent of necessary year 2000 activities, their costs have correspondingly risen; (5) many congressional committees have played a central role in addressing the Y2K challenge by holding agencies accountable for demonstrating progress and by heightening public appreciation of the problem; (6) the Senate formed a Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem, which held hearings on the readiness of key economic sectors, including power, health care, telecommunications, transportation, financial services, emergency services, and general business; (7) in October 1998, Congress passed--and the President signed--the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act; (8) its purposes include: (a) promoting the free disclosure and exchange of information related to year 2000 readiness; and (b) lessening the burdens on interstate commerce by establishing certain uniform legal principals in connection with the disclosure and exchange of information related to year 2000 readiness; (9) GAO has been actively working with the Congress as well as federal agencies to both strengthen agency processes and to evaluate their progress in addressing these challenges; (10) while much has been accomplished and real progress has been made in addressing the year 2000 problem, both risks and challenges remain; (11) some major agencies are significantly behind schedule and are at high risk that they will not correct all of their mission-critical systems in time; (12) thorough testing is essential to providing reasonable assurance that new or modified systems can process dates correctly and will not jeopardize an organization's ability to perform core business functions after the change of the century; (13) the nation's reliance on the complex array of public and private enterprises having scores of system interdependencies at all levels accentuates the potential repercussions a single failure could cause; and (14) it is essential that year 2000 issues be adequately addressed in other arenas, such as state and local governments, the public infrastructures, and other key economic sectors.

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