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Federal Government Numbers on Mission Critical Systems Drops Sharply
No. of Y2K 'Critical' Systems Drops
No. of Y2K 'Critical' Systems Drops By CHRIS ALLBRITTON
AP Cyberspace Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ As the federal government approaches Wednesday's deadline
for inoculating its "mission-critical computers" against the millennium
bug, it turns out that some missions aren't so critical after all.
A study of the numbers of systems potentially vulnerable to the so-called
Y2K bug shows that about one-third of them have simply dropped off the "mission-critical"
list in recent months.
Government agencies "are under tremendous pressure from Congress to
hit their numbers, to be 100 percent compliant. And in a practical sense,
they will do so even if they have to drop some of their mission-critical
systems," said Robert Alloway, who worked for a congressional committee
on Y2K and now runs the National Leadership Task Force on Y2K, an independent,
In part, the phenomenon of "disappearing" (Alloway's term) is
simply bureaucratic. Systems once defined as critical have ceased to be
so, but it has taken the Y2K threat to galvanize the government into sorting
But the "disappearing" _ and the refusal of many agencies to spell
out reasons for taking systems off the critical list _ is stoking suspicions
among some Y2K-watchers that the government is hiding something.
As the deadline nears, "the pressure will only increase for organizations
to define down their systems," said Ed Yardeni, chief economist for
Deutsche Bank Securities in New York.
"Once an agency compiles its mission-critical systems, I don't think
it should be able to change what's defined as mission-critical as the deadline
The Y2K bug occurs because many computers programmed to recognize only the
last two digits of a year won't work properly beginning Jan. 1, 2000, when
machines might assume it is 1900. Some computers can be reprogrammed, but
many have embedded microchips that must be replaced.
The effect of the bug is largely unknown. Some, like Yardeni, predict chaos,
huge power failures and nuclear accidents. Others say it will be no worse
than a storm that briefly knocks out power.
In August 1997, the government listed 9,100 mission-critical systems, and
its overall rating stood at 19.3 percent compliant, according to the General
Since then, the government says, 3,298 systems have been fixed, and about
79 percent of its mission-critical systems are compliant.
But that figure would have been only 55.6 percent had 3,323 systems not
been dropped or redefined, the GAO figures show.
John Koskinen, the chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion,
set a March 31 deadline for the federal government to have its mission-critical
systems 100 percent compliant.
According to the GAO, the Department of Agriculture has dropped 886 mission-critical
computer systems since August 1997, from 1,239 to 353. That enabled it to
say it had gone from 10 percent compliant to 65 percent.
A similar tale at Housing and Urban Development: The agency started with
231 systems and ended with 62. Compliance jumped from 22 percent to 73 percent.
The Department of Defense's numbers went from 3,695 systems to 2,581, and
compliance from 18 percent to 52 percent. It has classified the details,
but the little information it did release shows that some formerly critical
systems of control, early warning and communications were folded into others
or split into smaller components.
Among systems reclassified by Housing and Urban Development are the Multifamily
Data Warehouse, phased out in November without replacement, and the Funding
and Contracting Tracking System, replaced last month by the Grants Evaluation
Requests to HUD seeking explanations of the system's functions were not
The Department of Agriculture phased out systems that included one that
controlled the cash receipts log and one that tracked discrepancies between
bank deposits and the bookkeeping systems for the state and county offices
of the Farm Service Agency.
Overall, of the 9,100 systems, 3,298 have been fixed, 3,323 redefined, and
the rest are still being worked on, the GAO said.
Alloway, the task force director, concedes that of the mission-critical
systems dropped in the last 18 months, about 500 probably were "slop"
and needed to be dropped.
But he worries that many reclassified systems are "being dropped down
to the next tier of importance, primarily so they'll drop off the radar
of what's important."
The Office of Management and Budget, the watchdog agency of the Executive
Branch, established guidelines for what constituted "mission-critical."
But each agency then decided which systems fit the description, and how
much detail to make public.
"This is purely bureau business and not for public consumption,"
said Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
when asked for a list of formerly mission-critical systems. "It's regarding
investigative techniques and isn't something the public would benefit from."
Jack Gribben, spokesman for the President's Y2K council, acknowledged that
the number of mission-critical systems has shrunk. "I don't think it
takes away from the fact that agencies have been making real progress over
the past several months," he said. "It's just a matter of what's
"The definition, in my eyes, has always been a problem," said
Matt Ryan, a staff aide for the House Y2K subcommittee Alloway worked for.
It is chaired by Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., who in the past has voiced
suspicions about redefined systems.
"We would expect some of that, but there is also a sense of 'gaming,"'
said Ryan. "If you want to drop out 10 systems that are not mission-critical,
you can do that. That will raise suspicions, though."
But Russell George, staff director and chief counsel for Horn's subcommittee,
offered a cautious second opinion.
"The issue as to whether or not federal agencies were 'gaming the system'
was raised some time ago and the subcommittee, working with the GAO, reviewed
that issue and found no evidence that that was occurring," he said.
"That is not to say that the situation did not or does not exist, but
no evidence to that effect has been found."
Greg Parham, the Y2K project director for the Department of Agriculture,
said nothing suspicious was going on at his agency. Instead, most of the
1,239 systems tallied in the original inventory were separate programs that
were consolidated into one, he said. The Forest Service alone dropped from
423 to 17 systems.
Alloway is hopeful but wary. "I think they will achieve 100 percent
mission-critical compliance," he said. "But they will reach it
through a combination of creative redefining and hard work."