Evaluation of the Government’s Actions to fix the Year 2000 Bug
Summary: It was astonishing to find how unprepared the government is for this potentially devastating problem facing the American people. The government has had nearly three years of knowledge about this problem but hasn’t even been able to get up to the government standards that they set back in 1996. The government is really lagging behind and could essentially destroy the American economy if they keep up the performance they are currently demonstrating. The government appears to have let the American people down. The government is now starting to realize what a dramatic effect this could have on the entire world including the US. The most powerful country may be brought to its knees because of some little flaw in writing codes for computers in the last fifty years. This microscopic line of code could inevitably destroy the entire world’s economy and also possibly cause a malfunction of the world’s nuclear arsenal. This could cause them to fire at will or even just detonate in their silos. Furthermore it is very critical to observe the governments efforts in trying to bring this enormous problem to be fixed by falsifying Y2K compliance on many of its computers. Included are two graphs and a chart. The chart is the schedule the government was intending to stick to. It is called an immovable deadline and fixed schedule. One of the graphs demonstrates the proposed cost of fixing the Year 2000 bug. It is broken down into estimates of the total cost per year. The final graph is the grades the 24 major agencies received on their preparation for becoming Y2K compliant. With all of this information one can really understand how greatly the government underestimated the entire problem. They underestimated costs, and time it would take to upgrade and implement the programs. This truly demonstrates how poorly the government is being run and what kind of people we all have elected into office.
To begin, here is a little information about what all of the hype is about. Arie van Deursen, of The Economist, describes what the major problem with the Y2K bug is. “The Year/2000 problem is about two-digit dates. But there is more to it. The year 2000 is a leap year; some programs know this. They check whether a year is divisible by four, and conclude that 2000 is a leap year. Or, they’re more rigorous and aware of the exception: a year divisible by 100 as well is not a leap year — unless it’s also divisible by 400. So neither 1900 nor 2100 are leap years — but 2000 is. Many programs, however, incorrectly treat the year 2000 as a non-leap year. This may stem from the use of two-digit dates (i.e., “00” is treated as 1900 rather than 2000). Usually, the programmer had the wrong algorithm in mind. A common error is assuming centuries are never leap years. Here, the programmer forgets the “exception to the exception.” The other common error is, believing the year 2000 cannot be a leap year. This may be a result of believing leap years cannot be divisible by 1,000 (rather than 100). The leap year problem is serious. Consider the $1 million in damages caused by the failure of control computers in a New Zealand aluminum smelter. The computers could not deal with the 366th day of 1996. Similar and larger crashes are likely in 2000.”(3) Duersen also talks about problems after the Year 2000 hits. “Luckily, there may be a ray of hope. For most of the systems, we have 31 + 28 = 59 extra days to solve the leap year problem; that is, assuming we have time available in those first eight weeks of the year 2000.”(3) Also included is a progress chart issued by the government to chart advancement in updating and upgrading services and hardware. This chart also contains some progress figures. They claim that only fifty percent of the twenty-four agencies have completed their assessments by August 1997. They also claim that seventy percent of the total estimated cost comes from those agencies that aren’t finished assessing their systems.
This program was implemented on June 9, 1997. This completely demonstrates the lack of respect the government had for this problem. As reported in The Year 2000 Journal, the author talks about the lack of interest on the part of the government. “As 2000 approaches, it will increasingly preoccupy policy makers and the public too. Because the millennium-bug problem is so trivial, senior managers have found it hard to take seriously, and politicians have found it even harder. Only two heads of government have given speeches on the subject: Britain’s Tony Blair (with a sure instinct for a gap in the world market for leadership), and, more recently, Bill Clinton. The Group of Eight top industrial countries and the European heads of government both stitched a few lines on the millennium bug into communiqués earlier this year. But for most politicians, the issue is barely on the radar.”(2) There also are some estimates that I will include that came from the government. The government estimated in 1995 that to get all of the government computers to be Y2K compliant it would cost $20 billion. In 1996 the number doubled to more than $40 billion. However in 1997, now that the government understands all of the things that must be accomplished, the estimate ballooned to a number between $1.3 to $1.6 trillion! This is just one more example of the mass underestimation of the problem on the entire government’s part.
There were a few problems I ran into while doing this research. First was the lack of articles in print other than those on the Internet. This is good and bad. This is good in the idea that it is all very current information. It is also bad because it is hard to tell how reliable these on-line journals really are. What I heard on the news and read in the newspapers also backed up most of the information I found. The Second problem I ran into was the constant lack of concrete information of the amount of money spent on the problem so far. I got some rough estimates of the cost to fix the problem but not the real specific amounts of money spent up to date. The third problem was the amount of difficulty in searching the web for current and relevant information. I can’t imagine the hours I spent tracking dead-ends and useless information. The final problem I ran into was the huge amount of information about many different ideas and agencies. This was good but made it very difficult to key in on one certain agency.
My method of data collection was very limited. I was stuck using only the Internet and other on-line journals. This was very efficient because they were free and I could access them any time of the day. I also was required to subscribe to several mailing lists and e-mail newsletters. I used the Houston Business Journal, The Economist, The Year 2000 Journal, The Scotsman, and also Australian Financial Review. These are all available for free on the Internet, and also are updated either weekly, bi-weekly, and some are even updated daily.
These are some of the results that I have come across while conducting my research. According to Vince Sampson, also from The Economist, “A heavy toll is already being paid. The IRS has set aside $800 million specifically for the Year 2000 problem. States are doing the same. Texas has set aside $110 million; California has budgeted $50 million. At least at the legislative level, governments seem to know they must deal with this impending catastrophe.”(5) He continues “What will be the effect of this accountability? Certainly, there may be civil liability for negligence resulting in injury or monetary loss. Apart from this is the notion of an implied contract with the citizens. The idea is that public-sector entities owe some duty to citizens to provide basic services in return for the payment of taxes. The failure to provide these services is seen as a breach of this implied contract.”(5) This also tells us that all of the information on who paid taxes for the last several years could be lost very easily. There would be no way to prove someone did or did not. This is just one of the major catastrophes that could happen. This is very scary and could truly ruin our nation’s economy and freedom that we have come to grow and love. I found some very interesting information in the on-line journal called The Scotsman. “”The picture is a gloomy one,” said Stephen Horn, a US senator, warning of possible breakdowns in the Medicare payments system, electrical blackouts and telecommunications havoc. But John Koskinen, of the Year 2000 Council, said agencies were making strides and major systems would be ready for 2000 or on track to be so by the end of 1999. He said the real problem was with local governments, small companies and countries “that are at square one”. Horn has been putting out quarterly ratings of how 24 US federal agencies are coping with the Y2K problem. As in August, he gave the administration an overall “D” rating for its progress in fixing computers and telecommunications systems and drawing up contingency plans for breakdowns. The Defense Department, which has made 52 percent of its mission-critical systems ready for 2000, got a “D-” grade. Marks of “F” went to the departments of Justice, Energy, Health and Human Services and State. He said State was only 36 per cent fixed and at this rate would not have its systems fixed until 2034. A State Department official said the 36 percent figure was accurate but the agencies were expecting substantial improvements in the next report and plan to be fully corrected for 2000 by next August. At Health and Human Services’ Health Care Financing Administration, which operates Medicare, only seven of 100 mission-critical systems are Y2K compliant, Horn said. “If HCFA does not accelerate its efforts dramatically, failure of Medicare’s systems is inevitable.””(6) I have included a pie graph of the grades received by the 24 major agencies. This is very shocking and really puts into perspective how slow the government is going in their effort to fix this potentially catastrophe. The question has arisen to the readiness of our nuclear weapons. This is a headline that I came across: US Nuclear Agency Fails Y2K Testing. This was obtained in the journal Australian Financial Review. A few of the highlights are as follows. “The agency that manages the US Government’s nuclear weapons stockpile is testing its most critical computers in the wake of Pentagon inspectors’ discovery that no one had verified whether key systems could withstand year 2000 problems. The Defense Special Weapons Agency was not alone in certifying computers millennium-bug 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. The agency agreed with the audit findings, although the agency’s acting director, Mr. George Ullrich, said in a September 30 letter to the Inspector-General’s office that agency officials had been unaware that independent testing was needed to verify a system would not crash in 2000. Instead, agency officials believed “systems could be ‘self-certified’ with the aid of a check list”, Mr. 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 per cent of the 430 critical Pentagon computer systems that had been tested were certified as Y2K compliant. As a result, the report warned: “Systems may unexpectedly fail because they were classified as year 2000 compliant without adequate basis.”(1) This really gives the government a good public relations view. They make it seem like people just shake dice or draw cards to see if something is Y2K compliant or not. If this doesn’t demonstrate how lazy and inept some federal employees are then I don’t know what does. If this isn’t bad enough it goes on to illustrate that forty percent of the government’s mission critical computers are run by these fools. “This has nothing to do with command and control of nuclear weapons. The Defense Special Weapons Agency –which was absorbed into a new Defense Threat Reduction Agency on October 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 US Government considers critical to carrying out the Government’s mission, has been trying for several years to ensure systems do not crash when the calendar turns from 1999 to 2000.”(1) One of the best articles that I came across was one in The Economist, which stated what anyone who knows anything about this problem feels. “Such dire predictions thrive on the impossibility of saying with certainty how much is likely to go wrong. One of the many extraordinary aspects of the Year 2000 problem is the range of unknowns it reveals. Nobody really knows how widespread it is; how much of it will be fixed; and what it will cost to fix. The curious truth is that the carriers of the bug—computer hardware, software and microchips, which account for so much of the productive power of modern economies—are measured and monitored far less carefully than the economy’s stock of machines, vehicles and buildings.”(2)
Throughout this entire analysis of the government’s efforts to ensure the readiness for the Y2K bug I have found out more about the government than I ever wanted to know. I have learned that they are the worst procrastinators this country has ever seen. I have truly learned how inept the federal government really is. This is a program that could impact our society so strongly that it isn’t even funny. They just stand around and ponder how they should approach these problems and try to wait until they are going to go broke financing a program that would have been half as expensive if they would have started planning earlier and more precisely. “The United States accounts for around one-fifth of world output but one-third of its computer base.”(2) The government has to finally realize what a big concern this is for the entire world not just the US. If the US can get it’s problems fixed why can’t everyone else. The government really has a chance to show everyone how well they work under pressure.
1.Australian Financial Review, http://www.afr.com.au/content/981130/inform/inform5.html, November 30,1998, Accessed on 12/01/98.
2.Cairncross, Frances, The millennium computer bug is totally predictable in its timing, but completely unpredictable in its effects. Its greatest danger, writes Frances Cairncross, lies in that uncertainty, “Year 2000 Journal”, http://www.y2kjournal.com/, September 19,1998, Accessed on 11/02/98.
3.Deursen, Arie van. The Year/2000 Leap Year Problem: Get Ahead of It, But Don’t Jump to Conclusions!, “The Economist”, http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/19-9-98/index_survey.html, Oct. 26-Nov 2. Accessed on 11/02/98.
4.Houston Business Journal, http://www.amcity.com/houston/stories/1996/09/09/editorial1.html?h=Year|2000, September 9, 1996, Accessed on 11/25/98.
5.Sampson, Vince, Year/2000 Legal Issues: The Public Sector, “The Economist”, http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/19-9-98/index_survey.html, Oct. 26-Nov. 2, Accessed on 11/02/98.
6.The Scotsman Online Edition, http://www.scotsman.com:80/interactive/it05news981201.1.html, Accessed on 12/01/98.