High-definition, flat-screen television sets hang from the walls, scattered through a large room. Desks--equipped with flat-panel computers and small, egg-shaped cameras for video conferencing--are grouped in clusters representing vital sectors: economic, infrastructure (electric power and telephones), government operations, public health and safety, environmental (water and chemicals) and international.
Inside the room, behind glass walls, are two rows of desks for senior government officials and a bank of TV screens that can be tuned into network and cable channels.
This high-tech operation will serve as the White House's Y2K center, collecting and analyzing reports of Year 2000 computer problems and distributing the information to government policymakers, governors, mayors, the United Nations, the news media and others.
To avert any notion that this is a Y2K command bunker, the place has been officially named the Information Coordination Center (ICC).
Yesterday, President Clinton's Y2K troubleshooter, John A. Koskinen, offered a preview of the center--where he plans to spend much of New Year's Eve night--and its operations, which carry an estimated price tag of almost $50 million.
The government has usually managed weather-related disasters or armed conflicts abroad with the knowledge that the problem would be limited to specified geographical areas, Koskinen said. But in the case of Y2K, "when the president or the public or the media wants to know what's happening, what they mean by what's happening is what's happening everywhere in the world at one time," he said.
To provide "prompt answers," he said, the administration decided to build on existing emergency response centers in the government by asking them to collect and report data to the ICC. International groups, U.S. embassies and the Defense Department will provide information to the ICC from abroad.
In addition, eight trade groups will operate industry information centers and provide data to the ICC on Y2K events in their sectors. Participants include the Air Transport Association, the North American Electric Reliability Council, the Securities Industry Association and the telecommunications industry's Network Reliability and Interoperability Council.
"This will be the one place in the world with complete information" on Y2K, said Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.
The ICC will begin 24-hour monitoring operations on Dec. 30 and likely continue round-the-clock data collections through the first week of January.
If all goes according to current predictions, the ICC should have few Y2K mishaps to report. The bulk of the federal systems have been fixed and tested; large corporations have spent billions of dollars repairing their computers.
Some U.S. localities and foreign nations, including Russia, continue to lag on Y2K work, however. Five to 10 states are still at work checking out automated systems that administer federal benefits and about a third of the nation's school districts appear to be rushing to beat the New Year's Eve deadline, surveys show. Asked if he expected a "boring" New Year's Eve, Koskinen said, "We hope that night will be relatively boring. . . . We expect there will be some glitches and some systems that don't work."
Flying Colors for Top Carriers
The Transportation Department plans to announce today that the nation's 10 largest airlines, which handle 95 percent of domestic passengers, do not have any Y2K problems that would affect their compliance with federal safety standards.
The review by the Federal Aviation Administration covered 2,822 U.S. carriers and focused on automated systems that handle such ground-based operations as crew scheduling, pilot training and records management.
Not all the carriers received the FAA's highest Y2K rating, though. The FAA said 209 relatively small carriers will receive a follow-up check.
The Y2K problem stems from the use in many systems of two-digit dates, which might cause computers to interpret "00" as 1900, not 2000, and malfunction or shut down.
The FAA's findings will be posted today on a Transportation Department Web site, www.fly2k.dot.gov, officials said.
CAPTION: The Information Coordination Center will collect and analyze reports of Year 2000 computer problems and distribute the information to government policymakers and others.