President Clinton, releasing the White House's final report on the year 2000 computer problem, said yesterday he expects "no major national breakdowns" because of the Y2K glitch.
"The American people can have full faith that everything from air traffic control systems to Social Security payment systems will continue to work exactly as they should," Clinton told reporters on the South Lawn.
But with 51 days to go until the New Year, Clinton also warned against complacency, pointing out that several surveys show a number of small businesses, local governments and foreign nations got off to a slow start in making Y2K fixes and need to redouble their efforts.
"If we work together and use this time well, we can ensure that this Y2K computer problem will be remembered as the last headache of the 20th century, not the first crisis of the 21st," Clinton said.
Congressional Republicans have grumbled that Clinton and Vice President Gore have not done enough to make Y2K one of the nation's top priorities. White House officials said Clinton and Gore have received regular briefings on the computer problem, pressured the Cabinet to ensure fixes were made at federal agencies and created a White House task force to coordinate Y2K efforts with industry groups.
The year 2000 problem, popularly known as Y2K, stems from the use in many computer systems of a two-digit dating system that assumes the first two digits of the year are 1 and 9, a convention adopted years ago when coding space was at a premium. Without specialized reprogramming, the systems and some embedded chips will recognize "00" not as 2000 but as 1900. That misinterpretation could cause the computers either to shut down or malfunction.
For the most part, the 83-page report released yesterday provided little new information on the nation's progress in squashing the Y2K bug.
In keeping with past White House assessments, the report from the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion expressed "a high degree of confidence" that banks, electric power, telephones and air and rail transportation systems will not face major electronic disruptions.
Potential Y2K trouble spots also continued to be the same ones identified in past reports. Some local governments, smaller health care facilities, numerous schools and colleges, public housing authorities and small businesses appear to lag on Y2K repairs or have failed to provide information about their progress, the report said.
In the Washington area, most local governments have already reported completing work on their systems related to 911 emergency call centers.
The District is still in the process of installing a new computer-assisted dispatch system that is scheduled to be operating by early December. But even if it is not ready--which is considered unlikely--the city has made repairs to its old system to ensure that it is Y2K-compliant, said Steve Gaffigan, the police department's interim chief information officer.
John A. Koskinen, the presidential council's chair, said 911 systems have emerged as "clearly an area where people need to be testing" for potential Y2K failures.
The council's report said a survey of 2,700 call centers found only half were Y2K-compliant as of Oct. 1. But the National Emergency Number Association, which conducted the survey, expects computer fixes to be made to virtually all 911 centers before year's end.
Seven call sites, which officials would not identify, have reported they will not be Y2K-ready on New Year's Day.
Koskinen said any 911 computer breakdowns would not prevent police and fire departments from taking calls but would likely force the use of manual dispatch procedures, which could slow emergency response times. As a precaution, he urged individuals to learn the direct phone numbers that could be used to reach firefighters, police and hospitals during emergencies.
Although the White House expects the nation's infrastructure to hold, given the billions of dollars and countless hours spent by major corporations and the federal government fixing computer hardware and software, Koskinen reaffirmed that "everyone ought to understand there are no 100 percent guarantees in Y2K."
Staff writer Eric Lipton contributed to this report.