TRANSCRIPT: White House's Janet Abrams Worldnet On Y2K Issue (USIA Mar 9, 1999) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

TRANSCRIPT: White House's Janet Abrams Worldnet On Y2K Issue (USIA Mar 9, 1999)

Quick link ... Gotta run. -- Diane

09 March 1999


(Interactive with Tegucigalpa, Managua, Salvador) (6580)

WASHINGTON -- Following is the transcript of a U.S. Information Agency WorldNet satellite television program with Janet Abrams, executive director of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

Abrams answered questions from reporters in Tegucigalpa, Managua, and San Salvador in the February 22 interview.

(begin transcript)

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 09, 1999



Thank you for all your informative postings and all the considerable effort that you must put in locating all this information.

I didn't quite finish reading the above transcript because I have been having this nagging notion for the past few days that I just feel the need to throw out there.

Senator Dodd keeps saying that if anyone is just now starting to deal with Y2K they are already too late. It would strike me that this statement applies to a large percentage of countries.

It also strikes me that it could quite conceivably apply to the Russian, Korean, and Chinese military weapon systems. Also, a lot of nuclear power stations dotted throughout countries that are late in addressing this problem.

What I am wondering is -- is it too late for all these entities to be addressing this problem or not?

Do all these countries that have not addressed Y2K yet have enough time to fix their utilities, medical sector, businesses, banks, etc?

-- Carol (, March 09, 1999.

Carol --- Is it too late? "Yes"

Do they have time to .... ? "No"

-- BigDog (, March 09, 1999.

Oh, and by the way, in addition to "those countries" its also too late for THESE countries: U.S.A., England, Canada, New Zealand, and all the other ones that are "ahead of the Y2K curve." Why? Because being 90% remediated is not a whole lot different from being 0.05% remediated, things like our banking system are real touchy about stuff like that. Oh, and also, "those countries" turn out to be real important anyhow in the interconnected world in which we live, so if they go down, we all go down. I expect we will all be going down.

-- King of Spain (, March 09, 1999.

Big Dog and King of Spain,

Thank you for taking the time to post a reply.

I agree -- we are going to go down hard. The only difference is that some are going to go down quicker and harder than others, but in the end we shall all pretty much end up in the same place.

-- Carol (, March 09, 1999.

A few items seemed to jump out. They are as follows:

Asked about the contamination of data by means of non-compliant banks to compliant banks, Abrams replied, ". . .we are not focused on that right now. We are focused now on working with our allies and our other friends to get the systems ready and to work together on contingency planning."

Regarding banks, Abrams said, the government has been "promoting and pursuing a strategy of sharing information -- full disclosure of information to the public." And followed with examples of how progress regarding various agence is fully reported. Abrams said, "We will be doing that with the Federal Aviation Administration, because as you know next to banking air travel is a leading concern of the public when they're asked about their worries about Y2K." Oh? I don't see air travel as being the second most important concern of of the public. In fact, power is the major concern, followed by availability of food. Abrams went on to say that self-reporting was encouraged. Regulators are studying banks "to assure that they are working carefully on Y2K. . ." I don't like the sound of that. Very loosely worded.

"There seem to be two concerns. One is, Will I have access to my money, easy access? And then secondly, Will the records that I have that apply to my account at a bank be somehow affected by a Y2K problem? And so the American Bankers Association and other financial institution national groups, trade associations, are taking this consumer research they are doing and developing communications plans to address these particular concerns that people have." They take a poll, figure out what people want to hear, then tell them what they want to hear.

The next questioner, one country's national coordinator for Y2K, complained that the information received from the International Y2K Cooperation Center (IY2KCC) was too "generic." He said, "We think it's necessary to have detailed guidelines on areas such as risk analysis, contingency plans and other Y2K aspects that need to be worked on this year. Do you share my view? And I wonder if the cooperation center will provide this kind of information to those of us who are working so hard to solve the problem." Abrams' answer was that that the Center is "besieged by Internet information re Y2K," and that she would give this specific person's specific question to the Director of the IY2KCC. This tells me that the Center is swamped, not enough people, money, time.

Abrams added that even in the US "some 85 percent of small businesses, businesses which employ under 500 people, are aware of the Y2K problem; but then about 50 percent of that group say they haven't done anything about it yet, and they don't have a plan to take action."

The next question concerned the free flow of oil to countries who rely heavily on imported oil. Abrams' answer indicated that they're still studying the problem. She added that an early March meeting in London would be discussing maritime transportation problems, ". . . because as you know there are some 10,000 embedded chips, microchips, in a single oil rig. This is what I've heard -- and so we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are very much focused on it, and encourage other countries to be as focused as well."

Apparently, Abrams is not very optimistic that oil can continue to flow uninterrupted because she said, "What I would certainly encourage those in charge of Y2K in Nicaragua to focus on is contingency planning. . . . And we will be focusing at our June meeting at the United Nations on the topic of contingency planning. We will spend a couple of full days on that. . . ."

In her answer to a question about communication, Abrams said what we already know, "The potential overreaction by the public to the Y2K problem we see as possibly in this country a far greater risk than the actual disruptions that might ensue from Y2K computer difficulties. So we are taking this whole question of communications with the public very seriously." Spin, at least, is taken very seriously.

In response to another question about specific concerns, Abrams said that the World Bank has some expert consultants available and that the ICY2KC is "considering. . . identifying a relatively limited number of Y2K experts from all key sectors, from the United States, from Canada potentially, from the United Kingdom, from Mexico, from countries that are a bit farther along than perhaps your country is. And we are hoping to be able to make these individuals available to you by email or by phone call." Experts would also be sent to various meetings, she said.

With regard to Panama, a questioner said, " Recently a friend from Panama said that the U.S. government has been very far reaching and visionary because they are going to hand over the Panama Canal 12 hours before it collapses. This is really a joke, but it is true that we have gotten a lot of very generous support from your government, especially through AID, over the last 15 years. We've gotten a lot of equipment under this program. And my question is: Is AID going to provide assistance to back up this equipment that it has given us over the past few years?" I don't think it's that big of a joke. If anything at all goes wrong with anything connected to the Panama Canal, it could very easily result in passage to US ships being denied until the US fixes whatever is wrong,no matter what's going on in the US at the time. Abrams asked, "And you have the gentleman's name and contact? We'll get it." Make of that what you will!

The next question cocnerned Ed Yardeni's forecasts. Abrams answered, "We from the United States government do not have numbers to match up with his numbers. We do not have the same pessimistic view that Mr. Jardenny (ph) has. We believe this is a significant challenge that we are all working together on, but that the only thing you're hearing from an economist and expert like Mr. Jardenny (ph) is a guess, and his guess is as good as anybody else's guess. And John Koskinen, my boss, insists that we focus on getting the work done and not spend too much time guessing." Nice sidestep, Mr. K.

In a supreme example of government doublespeak, Abrams noted that, "Far over 90 percent of banks that have been examined are considered to be progressing in a satisfactory manner towards reaching Y2K compliance." She did not define "satisfactory." Part, though, ". . .is that a bank must have contingency plans in place to deal with any number of problems that could occur. And so there is tremendous focus moving forward into the spring on testing certainly -- testing with outside partners beyond your own organizational boundaries -- and on building contingency plans." Heavy emphasis on contingency again there. "We do not envision in this country having any major disruption in our banking system. In fact, I am able to tell you of all the critical infrastructures the banking and financial infrastructure is the most solid." And the emphasis is on contingency. . .

Abrams also added that, "Beginning in March you will hear about an enormous test being conducted by Wall Street in New York -- numerous firms participating -- to show that the stock market, that aspect of the financial system, is on track to be ready for the year 2000 as well." I expect we shall have to shoehorn that Wall St. information out of somebody just like last time.

Regarding standards as to compliance, Abrams explained, ". . . the Y2K cooperation center won't have any particular authority over any countries and how they perform, and so we can't require people to meet certain standards. But certainly it is in every country's interests to meet general standards of certification so that they can do business with partners around the world." So if a country says it's compliant, when it really means its computers will be properly plugged in on New Year's Eve, it's considered compliant. Who's going to say they're not compliant and risk losing even a day's worth of business from truly compliant businesses?

Noting that the US relies upon the states to deliver various federal services, Abrams said, ". . . we have the same issue arising where the states say, Gee, I don't want to have to certify -- I don't want to have to comply with several different federal standards." So what's been done is that ". . .the Department of Labor developed guidance for the states of the state labor offices, those unemployment insurance offices, and the Department of Labor had one set of criteria for certification across the country. And we are now encouraging all other major federal programs to adopt these criteria. So we could look into certainly sharing those criteria with you that we used."

A questioner complained that "it takes a long time to get this certification, especially if you are outside the United States. Personally I think that the federal government has a great deal more influence on suppliers and can get important information on the situation of this equipment. . . . I'd like to know if in the Y2K cooperation center there will be access to such databases, and what do you think about this whole idea?"

Abrams' resposne: ". . . I think it's a great idea. I think this is an idea that John Koskinen, who leads our effort in the United States, has been working on for almost a year. He's been in this position since last March. And that is the sharing of technical information about the Y2K status of a particular product or service. . . I would say the following: We are continuing to urge corporations to create databases that are accessible by the public -- usually by the Internet, posted on their websites -- that list the Y2K status of their particular products or services, and that also contain information about their experience with other products or services." Can you say 'self-reporting'? Sure ya can! Is there any means by which to do any more than "urge" corporations to list the status of their products? Apparently not.

As with the other reports we've read lately, you have to read between the lines. These are just some things that got my attention and I see nothing that doesn't do more than udnerscore what we already know. No doubt different points will attract others' attention. Please read the whole report and see what pops up for you. With lots of us analyzing it, we're not likely to miss anything.

-- Old Git (, March 09, 1999.

Old Git and group,

Don't you get the feeling Janet's got a "muzzle" on? Even then little tidbits leak out.

I especially like the mention of the next international UN meeting scheduled in June for "contingency planning." That's about therell be time for.

Thought Id check the UN site to see what theyre Y2K up to. Not much meat.


United Nations (UN) Development Update

No. 26 January - February 1999 cgi/ Y2K%23

International community confronts Y2K threat

AN INTERNATIONAL TEAM ASSEMBLED LATE last year is preparing to respond to the unknown but possibly devastating effects of the change over in computer dating systems that will take place with the arrival of the year 2000.

Informal agreement on an "international coordinating mechanism" came at an 11 December meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council's Working Group on Informatics, which brought together for the first time more than 100 experts and national coordinators concerned with the difficulties caused when computer dating systems with only the last two digits to mark the year try to make the change from 1999 to 2000. The problem is widely referred to as "the Millennium Bug", or simply "Y2K".

At least three regional working groups emerged from the December meeting. Experts from eastern and central Europe and the CIS (former Soviet Union) republics will maintain contact via the Y2K coordinator from Bulgaria (a country which was assigned a leading role in computer technology in the Soviet bloc). Asian national Y2K coordinators are meeting in Manila in February, and a South American group also agreed to hold a follow-up meeting, probably in March in Lima.

Such regional groupings are particularly well suited to come to grips with problems that may occur in power grids, which span countries but not the globe. Computer date conversion efforts may fail to prevent a disruption at one particular juncture in an electrical power grid, but the effects would be counteracted by adding regional cross connections ahead of time as a contingency measure, Chilean Y2K coordinator Rodrigo Moraga told Development Update. At an 11 December side meeting, the South American group had already begun to compare notes on preparations in a wide array of economic and technological sectors, and to outline possible contingency measures, said Mr. Moraga, who advises Mercosur (countries belonging to the trade zone in the southern cone of South America) and is also serving as the liaison for the upcoming Lima meeting.

But other potential problems are more global in nature. Experts worry that breakdowns in computer control of financial transactions, telecommunications, air traffic control and shipping in even one country will have hard-to-anticipate international consequences. Even more ominous is the possibility that a computer glitch will lead to an inadvertent launch of nuclear missiles, or that breakdowns in radar screens will lead a nuclear power to conclude that its defences have been subverted by electronic warfare, and that an attack on its territory may be imminent.

Such concerns, discussed in closed sessions on 11 December, led to support for an international coordinating mechanism, according to the meeting summary released by Ambassador Ahmad Kamal of Pakistan, chairman of the informatics working group. His statement envisioned a support staff, underwritten by voluntary contributions, with oversight by Y2K coordinators from countries which served as "friends of the Chair" during preparations for the UN meeting. These countries are Bulgaria, Chile, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Although no support staff had been assembled as Development Update goes to press, regional groups already are planning to feed progress reports to the "Friends of the Chair" group. Furthermore, organizers point out, as a result of the 11 December meeting, there is for the first time a commonly shared global contact list for Y2K liaisons. Beforehand, many countries had not even given thought to naming an official or expert to maintain national oversight and international communication.

Also in the loop are major international and expert bodies participating in the UN meeting. These include the World Bank, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Joint Year 2000 Council and the International Technology Association of America. A World Bank section called infoDev operates a $30 million fund which currently is the only financial resource geared to assisting developing countries with Y2K.

"The idea that Africa will be less affected because computers are less pervasive there is a myth." -- Mohammad Mehdi, South African Y2K Coordinator

An international Y2K support staff with access to the UN contact list would have access to information with which to appraise which junctures in worldwide digital systems are the most vulnerable, as well as the most strategically important. Expert groups--the phrase "SWAT teams" was coined by Ambassador Kamal--could be dispatched to provide emergency assistance. Such personnel would be skilled in helping countries manage complex political, economic and technological interfaces, United States Y2K coordinator John Koskinen told Development Update.

Production problems, panic

Expert assessments of the amount of damage the Millennium Bug will bring to the industrialized countries vary widely. The impact on developing countries is even more of an unknown quantity.

On the one hand, computer systems are much less pervasive in developing countries. For example, in Mexico -- one of the more economically and technologically advanced of the developing countries -- only about one million out of 3.2 million enterprises use computers and only about 200,000 rely on computer networks, national Y2K coordinator Carlos Jarque reported to Development Update.

But a large share of the computer systems in developing countries rely on older chips and software, which are vulnerable to the Bug. In Sub- Saharan Africa, very few countries have back-up systems for telecommunications and electric power, according to South African coordinator Mohammad Mehdi.

"The idea that Africa will be less affected because computers are less pervasive there is a myth", said Mr. Mehdi, who coordinates an African Y2K group that was established under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community ahead of the 11 December UN meeting.

In China, 70 per cent of the banking system has converted to safe dating systems already, and full compliance is expected during the upcoming year, Dr. Jinpeng Huai told Development Update. But Dr. Huai, a consultant to the Chinese government, said he is more concerned about breakdowns in automated factory production systems.

Production breakdowns in high-export countries, such as China, could cause global supply bottlenecks, some experts worry. Or the anticipation of bottlenecks could motivate businesses to borrow money ahead of time to expand their inventories, leading to an increase in the cost of capital.

Indeed, some experts say their greatest fear is fear itself--that public confusion and misperceptions could lead to hoarding, financial panics and possibly even civil disorders. Experts at the UN meeting remarked that millennialist fringe groups already are issuing dire predictions, and that two major Hollywood movies based on Y2K disaster scenarios are expected to be released in mid-1999.

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 09, 1999.

But tha tlast paragraph is the one the reporters want to hear - so its the only one the reporters are going to focus on - Hollywood and hatred of the right-wing-wacko-Christian-fundamentalists-racists-warmongers all right. That's the group Mr K. wants attention on - never mind that the rest of the world appears to be just about on schedule - to finish about mid 2003.


-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (, March 09, 1999.

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