NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Government Is Managing The "Y2K" Problem

December 17, 1997

The problem known as Y2K -- making computers recognize that the year 2000 is not the year 1900 -- is putting some federal government operations at "at high risk of system failure," according to an Office of Management and Budget report submitted to Congress yesterday. Among the systems that may malfunction due to the inability of many mainframe computers programs to recognize dates after 1999 are air traffic control, Pentagon weapons, security at nuclear power plants and computers at the Internal Revenue Service.

  • Most of the criticism in the report was directed at the Transportation Department and its Federal Aviation Administration branch.
  • Experts forecast some computer systems will collapse completely and some will be immune -- but officials won't know which will do which until January 1, 2000, rolls around.
  • Cost estimates for fixing the computer code are as high as $3.87 billion for the federal government and $2 billion for the states.
  • But other estimates range up to $30 billion for the federal government and $600 billion worldwide.

When the cost of expected litigation is included, the estimates climb to $1 trillion globally.

Knowledgeable observers say the federal government is probably less than 50 percent toward meeting its goals.

The areas of concern are widespread, as demonstrated by a recent Food and Drug Administration warning to makers of medical devices, such as pacemakers, to make sure their products survive 2000.

Source: M. J. Zuckerman and Anthony DeBarros, "Avoiding Digital Disaster," USA Today, December 17, 1997.


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