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  White House Urges Small Businesses to Make Needed Repairs -- and Soon

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 1999; Page F5

For Tim Sayers, the technology director for a chain of Washington and Baltimore sporting goods stores, Y2K fixes will cost about $30,000.

For Jeff Hawk, who runs a metalsmithing operation in Montana, it meant spending $75,000 on a new computer system.

But both were willing to pay, knowing that the investment in identifying and fixing year 2000 systems glitches now is small, compared with fixing them later.

That's the message that came out of the White House this week. Worried that up to 800,000 small businesses nationwide do not intend to check their computers for potential year 2000 problems, the White House's Y2K trouble-shooter warned Wednesday that small companies adopting a "wait and see" attitude toward Y2K may be putting themselves in economic jeopardy.

Congress approved a special loan program to help small businesses fix and upgrade computer systems, but only 81 companies have applied for the loans since they became available through banks and the Small Business Administration in April, the official said.

"It is not too late to start to get Y2K-ready," said John A. Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion. "There is great risk in waiting."

Koskinen said companies that wait to see which systems malfunction because of Y2K may find themselves "at the end of a very long line" as they try to obtain software repairs and upgrades following the calendar change to 2000. Small businesses could wait days or weeks for the computer fixes to be made and, if faced with cash-flow problems, may find themselves forced to close, he said.

A Senate report, issued Wednesday by Sens. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), suggested that the nation will not face widespread Y2K problems. "This is sort of a fender-bender. . . . We don't see any major wrecks," Dodd said.

But Dodd said the health care industry, including nursing homes and doctors offices, health and welfare programs administered by states, and some foreign nations remain at risk for serious Y2K breakdowns. He mentioned China, Italy and Russia as countries "still lagging behind."

The year 2000 problem stems from the use of two-digit date fields in many computer systems, which may cause the systems to interpret "00" as 1900, not 2000, and malfunction or shut down on Jan. 1.

Koskinen's remarks came at a "100 Days to Y2K" event that featured representatives from a small retail business that operates apparel and athletic footwear stores in the District and Baltimore, a small manufacturer in Montana and a small Texas school district.

All endorsed Koskinen's message that small organizations can assess and fix Y2K problems in the time remaining this year. Koskinen said Y2K information could be obtained on the Internet (www.y2k.gov) or by calling 1-888-872-4925.

Sayers, the technology director for Levtran Enterprises' Downtown Locker Room stores, described a seven-step plan developed with the help of the National Retail Federation, which determined that a telephone voice-mail system had to be replaced and that merchandising and point-of-sale software systems needed to be upgraded.

Hawk, president of Big Horn Bolt & Anchor in Billings, Mont., found he needed Y2K-compliant computers to win a contract with a large manufacturer. With the help of the Small Business Administration, he obtained a $75,000 loan and had a new system set up within three weeks.

The Hutto, Tex., school district's superintendent, Ernie Laurence, and district technology coordinator Denise Jackson completed the bulk of their Y2K work in about 50 days. The school district, near Austin, obtained Y2K readiness information from about 1,000 vendors and has drafted school contingency plans for food and transportation in the event of unanticipated Y2K problems.

"One hundred days is plenty of time," Jackson said.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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