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D.C. Seeks Funds To Finish Y2K Fix

By Eric Lipton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 1999; Page B1

The District government intends to ask federal authorities this week for an additional $75 million in emergency funds to complete its year 2000 computer repairs, an allocation that would more than double the federal commitment to the city's late-starting effort.

Chief Technology Officer Suzanne J. Peck told the D.C. Council yesterday that the money is needed to ensure the city can stick to its tight schedule to finish critical computer repairs by year's end.

The additional federal funds also would help finance what Peck called the nation's most extensive big-city Y2K contingency planning effort, designed to ensure that District services such as fire, police and public works are not interrupted Jan. 1 even if unexpected computer failures occur or the city is unable to complete all the repairs on time.

"We are working night and day, 350 professionals, under known time constraints and with meticulous plans to assure . . . that the District will work" on Jan. 1, 2000, Peck said.

The year 2000 computer glitch, popularly known as Y2K, stems from the use in many computer systems of two-digit date fields, leading many machines to interpret "00" as 1900, not 2000. This could cause systems to transmit bad data, malfunction or crash.

The additional federal funds sought would supplement a $61.8 million emergency grant given earlier this year, after a top federal computer expert called the city's Y2K status "bleak."

Peck told the council the city is keeping up with its goal set a year ago when the Y2K fix began in earnest. The plan is to have the District's 336 large computer systems, 13,000 personal computers and 62,000 pieces of computer-related equipment in working order, tested and returned to service by the end of November.

That is much later than deadlines set by Virginia and Maryland state governments as well as most of the region's other large local governments. Because of the limited time still available, Peck said in an interview yesterday, she does not expect every city agency to be finished with its Y2K work by New Year's Eve. If necessary, she said, she would defer less important repairs to ensure work is completed at the 18 city agencies that provide critical services.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Donald Edwards and Emergency Management Agency Director Sam Jordan also briefed the D.C. Council yesterday on the status of their year 2000 repair efforts and their contingency plans.

The police department, for example, intends to station officers at more than 120 locations across the city as of 10 p.m. New Year's Eve to ensure that even if electricity, telephone service or other communications equipment fails, residents can report emergencies in person. The Water and Sewer Authority, meanwhile, is installing massive generators at city pumping stations to guarantee that drinking water flows. Prior to Jan. 1, the city will open 21 "warming centers" across the District to provide residents with a place to go if utilities or city services are disrupted.

Peck, Ramsey and Edwards emphasized that even though several emergency plans will be implemented automatically, before any sign of a potential problem surfaces, it does not mean they anticipate having to rely on the plans.

"In the very worst cases, unless it is coming like a tsunami from someplace outside of the District, [the impact of year 2000 problem] will be very modest, and that is where the contingency plans come in," Peck said.

As of last week, 63 percent of the critical systems citywide were repaired, while 41 percent of all of 336 computer systems had been fixed, Peck said. The District's technology office ranking said that, on average, 20 of the city's 73 agencies were not halfway done with their overall repairs, testing and contingency planning. But Peck told the council yesterday she thinks those numbers understate the extent of the progress to date, since agencies are not given credit for work underway until it is complete.

The federal Office of Management and Budget still has $496 million in emergency Y2K funds available to give out this year for non-defense-related projects. OMB spokeswoman Linda Ricci said the city's $75 million request had not yet arrived, "but we will evaluate the District's request once we receive it."

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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