Vice President Gore will receive regular personal briefings on the Year 2000 computer problems from the White House's top Y2K adviser during the holiday weekend.
John A. Koskinen, who is heading the government's massive mobilization against the so-called "millennium bug," disclosed the administration's decision to provide Y2K updates to Gore, rather than to President Clinton, during a question-and-answer session with reporters yesterday.
The decision comes as confidence is growing inside the White House that the Y2K bug poses no threat to the nation's infrastructure. By making Gore the point man, it could also give the Democratic presidential candidate an opportunity to remind voters of his long-time interest in technology and the "new economy" it has helped create.
Gore will spend the holiday weekend with family members in Carthage, Tenn., a spokesman said. Clinton will be here and plans to participate in some of the White House-sponsored millennium celebrations, a spokeswoman said.
The administration decided Gore should receive the briefings because "he has been historically monitoring this issue very closely, particularly from the standpoint of federal systems," Koskinen said.
Koskinen said Gore's involvement in Y2K issues goes back to at least September 1998, when the vice president met with the Cabinet to stress the importance of fixing the government's computers.
"So he has been very anxious, and I've been reporting to both the president and vice president on a monthly basis," Koskinen said. When the time came to set up a "regular reporting relationship" for this weekend, officials decided Gore should be the one, Koskinen said.
Koskinen noted that "if anything important happens, obviously we'll talk with the president as well."
At Center, 24-Hour World Watch
Koskinen will oversee the government's Y2K efforts at a $50 million command center just blocks from the White House. The Information Coordination Center will begin 24-hour operations on Thursday and collect data from approximately 180 countries and all 50 states.
The center will focus on foreign nations starting Friday, when New Zealand reaches midnight at 6 a.m. EST. Koskinen's staff will watch to see if any computer problems disrupt New Zealand's power, phone and transportation systems.
The Year 2000 computer problem stems from the use of two-digit date fields in many systems. Without specialized fixes, the software and embedded systems might misinterpret "00" as 1900, not 2000, and malfunction or shutdown.
In the past 15 months, Koskinen said, "the level of public anxiety [about Y2K] has gone down." Administration officials have yet to see any indications that Americans will make runs on banks or gas stations this week because of Y2K fears, Koskinen said.
Peace Corps' Preparations
Almost all large federal agencies have set up command centers to watch for Y2K disruptions, including the Peace Corps.
Many Peace Corps volunteers have been provided with satellite phones, extra food and fuel, sleeping bags and even power generators to cope with possible breakdowns to local phone and power systems in foreign countries.
In Moldova, the 34 volunteers remaining in the former Soviet republic will gather in the capital, Kishinev, as a precaution. There are no plans to consolidate volunteers in Russia or Ukraine, two other potential Y2K trouble spots.
Thomas Tighe, Peace Corps chief of staff, said yesterday he expects Y2K to be a "non-event." He added, "If we were really worried, we would have pulled folks out."
The State of the States
Because a number of federal programs rely on state governments to distribute benefits or provide services, some members of Congress have fretted that snarls in computer connections will cause delays that lead to constituent complaints.
But federal officials think many of the potential risks have been resolved.
Labor Department officials Patricia W. Lattimore and Raymond L. Bramucci have informed Congress that all state unemployment insurance programs nationwide are Y2K-ready.
Agriculture Department technology chief Anne F. Thomson Reed reports that all states and territories have fixed their food stamp and child nutrition computers except for Guam, which predicts it will finish system repairs by Friday.
The Health and Human Services Department lists just a few states still facing potential problems with systems serving recipients of Medicaid and state children's health insurance programs. In most cases, the states are working on the computers that help enroll people, process payments and administer the programs.
At risk, according to the listing, are the District, Oklahoma, the Virgin Islands and Wyoming. Federal officials cautioned, however, that the listing does not mean the localities will not be able to deliver their services. All have emergency backup plans designed to keep their programs operating.