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Schools Behind in Y2K Computer Repairs, White House Says

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 1999; Page A4

The nation's schools and colleges appear to be lagging in the race to finish Year 2000 computer repairs, and government officials remain concerned about the Y2K progress of small hospitals, businesses, towns and counties, the White House said yesterday.

Only 28 percent of local school districts and about 30 percent of colleges have completed their Year 2000 computer fixes, showing "disturbingly small levels of compliance," said John A. Koskinen, President Clinton's troubleshooter on Y2K issues.

A third of the schools and colleges are still assessing the scope of their Y2K problem, Koskinen said at a news conference, noting, "It is getting very late in the day to be at that stage of preparation."

Computers with Y2K glitches could disrupt the processing of student grants and loans, student records and class registration, and could even lead to breakdowns in controls for heating, air conditioning and card-reader security systems at dorm entrances, Koskinen said.

Education Secretary Richard W. Riley, in a letter to university leaders yesterday, said a substantial number of colleges will not be Y2K-ready until October or later, leaving "little time to adjust if schedules slip or problems are discovered."

Riley said only 22 of more than 5,800 colleges and lenders participating in student aid programs have successfully exchanged data with systems at the Education Department. Without proper testing of data exchanges, Riley warned, defects in Y2K repairs would not be found and could lead to "significant delays" in the disbursement of student aid next year.

The Year 2000 computer problem, popularly known as the Y2K glitch, stems from the use of two-digit date fields in software code and microchips, raising the prospect that computers will interpret "00" as 1900, not 2000, and malfunction or shut down.

Koskinen called the news conference to release the third Y2K report prepared by the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. The report shows that the federal government and the nation's electric power, telecommunications, air traffic and banking systems are nearing completion of their critical Y2K work.

Like the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Koskinen said he plans to fly on New Year's Eve, taking the shuttle from Washington to New York and back, to demonstrate his confidence in the air traffic control system. "I'll be up there," he said.

But the report indicates that towns and counties, small health care facilities, school districts and small businesses face a significant amount of Y2K work. Other economic sectors also lag, such as the oil and gas industry, which projects that it will wrap up major repairs by Sept. 30.

The White House snapshot, though, continues to rely on surveys that may not reflect recent progress to quash the so-called millennium bug. The surveys of counties, health care providers and small businesses were conducted by industry groups in the spring. The last of the survey responses from more than 3,500 school districts and 2,100 colleges were returned to the Education Department in early June, according to the report.

Koskinen noted that the White House has had little luck in determining the status of the nation's thousands of water treatment districts -- despite the help of the leading water works association. The bulk of large city water plants, however, should be Y2K-ready by Sept. 30, he said.

He also said the global arena is "the most difficult one for us to get accurate information from." While major U.S. trading partners say they are prepared, some developing countries are likely fail to complete all their Y2K repairs, Koskinen said.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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