Prince George's Still Trying to Catch Up on Y2K Problem
By Jackie Spinner
Prince George's County is far behind other large Washington area jurisdictions in addressing potential computer glitches that could occur on Jan. 1, 2000, forcing officials to scramble now to replace and test crucial systems that control such operations as 911 emergency calls.
The county expects to have the problems corrected in time to avoid any possibility of a complete computer meltdown in government functions at the turn of the millennium. But some County Council members and civic leaders are troubled by the slow response to a widely publicized issue.
Unlike Montgomery, Howard and Fairfax counties, which all started to tackle the so-called Y2K problem in 1995, Prince George's officials waited until a year ago to begin addressing the computer malfunctions that could occur if software programs and embedded computer chips recognize the new year as 1900 instead of 2000.
As of yesterday, about 58 percent of mainframe computer operations in Prince George's County had been checked and fixed to work properly in 2000, compared with 76 percent of the systems in Fairfax, 70 percent in Howard and about 75 percent in Montgomery.
"I am very disturbed," said council member Ronald V. Russell (D-Mitchellville), a former data processor in the federal Office of Management and Budget. "I had raised the issue in 1995 and I was told that it would be taken care of. Now we come to find out that the county is not prepared."
Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro) said a fiscal crisis in 1995 made it difficult for the county to address the Y2K issue. He said the county also has had to replace antiquated computer systems still in use in some department and agencies -- a more time-consuming process.
"I think the county for some time has been behind with technology, and it didn't start with this administration," Estepp said.
Charles Renninger, president of the Largo Civic Association, said the county has no excuse to be behind on an issue that has been in the media and that the federal government has taken three to four years to address.
"It's not that attention hasn't been drawn to the problems," said Renninger, a management analyst with the federal Surface Transportation Board.
To be on schedule, local governments should be in the testing phase, rolling ahead the clocks on computer systems to make certain that they will function Jan. 1, said Leo W. Young, who provides staff support to the Information Technology Committee for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
"If you're still struggling with compliance, you're in trouble," he said.
Don Pfalzgraf, Y2K project manager for Greenbelt-based OAO Corp., which operates the county's computer mainframe as a private contractor, said the county is still upgrading and fixing three major systems: finance, personnel and payroll.
Some computer systems, such as the one maintained by the Elections Board, have been tested and determined to be in compliance, Pfalzgraf said.
"Will there be any surprises Jan. 1? You bet," he said. "But do I think they are at a number we can deal with? You bet. We don't expect any major systems to be down."
Earlier this week, County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) went to the council seeking an additional $12.5 million to help pay for Y2K compliance. The county expects to spend a total of $20 million, most of it to buy replacement equipment.
Libby Clapp, who was hired a year ago to oversee the county's information technology division, said she has set a deadline of July 1 for all systems to be replaced and upgraded. A systemwide test is scheduled for August.
"We haven't spent $40 million like Montgomery County. That is for sure," she said. "Lots of folks have had more money and have done it better. But we have a plan."
But council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie) said the county could be paying a heavy price for the delay. "When you do things in a rush, you pay a premium price," she said. "This might not have been quite as expensive if we hadn't waited."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company