Define Mission-Critical -- A Fed Y2K March Deadline Perspective : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Define Mission-Critical -- A Fed Y2K March Deadline Perspective

Early-bird ...
Perhaps the Feds will catch worms on the 31st?


Advance for Tuesday AMs, March 30
CHRIS ALLBRITTON, AP Cyberspace Writer
Thursday, March 25, 1999

(03-25) 13:15 PST NEW YORK (AP) -- As the federal government approaches Wednesday's deadline for inoculating its ``mission-critical computers'' against the millennium bug, it turns out that some missions aren't so critical after all.

A study of the numbers of systems potentially vulnerable to the so-called Y2K bug shows that about one-third of them have simply dropped off the ``mission-critical'' list in recent months.

Government agencies ``are under tremendous pressure from Congress to hit their numbers, to be 100 percent compliant. And in a practical sense, they will do so even if they have to drop some of their mission-critical systems,'' said Robert Alloway, who worked for a congressional committee on Y2K and now runs the National Leadership Task Force on Y2K, an independent, non-profit organization.

In part, the phenomenon of ``disappearing'' (Alloway's term) is simply bureaucratic. Systems once defined as critical have ceased to be so, but it has taken the Y2K threat to galvanize the government into sorting them out.

But the ``disappearing'' -- and the refusal of many agencies to spell out reasons for taking systems off the critical list -- is stoking suspicions among some Y2K-watchers that the government is hiding something.

As the deadline nears, ``the pressure will only increase for organizations to define down their systems,'' said Ed Yardeni, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Securities in New York.

``Once an agency compiles its mission-critical systems, I don't think it should be able to change what's defined as mission-critical as the deadline approaches.''

The Y2K bug occurs because many computers programmed to recognize only the last two digits of a year won't work properly beginning Jan. 1, 2000, when machines might assume it is 1900. Some computers can be reprogrammed, but many have embedded microchips that must be replaced.

The effect of the bug is largely unknown. Some, like Yardeni, predict chaos, huge power failures and nuclear accidents. Others say it will be no worse than a storm that briefly knocks out power.

In August 1997, the government listed 9,100 mission-critical systems, and its overall rating stood at 19.3 percent compliant, according to the General Accounting Office.

Since then, the government says, 3,298 systems have been fixed, and about 79 percent of its mission-critical systems are compliant.

But that figure would have been only 55.6 percent had 3,323 systems not been dropped or redefined, the GAO figures show.

John Koskinen, the chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, set a March 31 deadline for the federal government to have its mission-critical systems 100 percent compliant.

According to the GAO, the Department of Agriculture has dropped 886 mission-critical computer systems since August 1997, from 1,239 to 353. That enabled it to say it had gone from 10 percent compliant to 65 percent.

A similar tale at Housing and Urban Development: The agency started with 231 systems and ended with 62. Compliance jumped from 22 percent to 73 percent.

The Department of Defense's numbers went from 3,695 systems to 2,581, and compliance from 18 percent to 52 percent. It has classified the details, but the little information it did release shows that some formerly critical systems of control, early warning and communications were folded into others or split into smaller components.

Among systems reclassified by Housing and Urban Development are the Multifamily Data Warehouse, phased out in November without replacement, and the Funding and Contracting Tracking System, replaced last month by the Grants Evaluation Management System.

The Department of Agriculture phased out systems that included one that controlled the cash receipts log and one that tracked discrepancies between bank deposits and the State and County Automation Project.

Requests to both departments seeking explanations of the systems' functions were not answered.

Overall, of the 9,100 systems, 3,298 have been fixed, 3,323 redefined, and the rest are still being worked on, the GAO said.

Alloway, the task force director, concedes that of the mission-critical systems dropped in the last 18 months, about 500 probably were ``slop'' and needed to be dropped.

But he worries that many reclassified systems are ``being dropped down to the next tier of importance, primarily so they'll drop off the radar of what's important.''

The Office of Management and Budget, the watchdog agency of the Executive Branch, established guidelines for what constituted ``mission-critical.'' But each agency then decided which systems fit the description, and how much detail to make public.

``This is purely bureau business and not for public consumption,'' said Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, when asked for a list of formerly mission-critical systems. ``It's regarding investigative techniques and isn't something the public would benefit from.''

Jack Gribben, spokesman for the President's Y2K council, acknowledged that the number of mission-critical systems has shrunk. ``I don't think it takes away from the fact that agencies have been making real progress over the past several months,'' he said. ``It's just a matter of what's a priority.''

``The definition, in my eyes, has always been a problem,'' said Matt Ryan, Meyer's counterpart on the House side. He's the spokesman for Alloway's old subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., who has accused the Department of Defense of redefining systems off the map.

``We would expect some of that, but there is also a sense of 'gaming,''' said Ryan. ``If you want to drop out 10 systems that are not mission-critical, you can do that. That will raise suspicions, though.''

Greg Parham, the Y2K project director for the Department of Agriculture, said nothing suspicious was going on at his agency. Instead, most of the 1,239 systems tallied in the original inventory were separate programs that were consolidated into one, he said. The Forest Service alone dropped from 423 to 17 systems.

Alloway is hopeful but wary. ``I think they will achieve 100 percent mission-critical compliance,'' he said. ``But they will reach it through a combination of creative redefining and hard work.''

^End advance for Tuesday AMs, March 30

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 25, 1999


I did a presentation on this subject on the air a few weeks ago, knowing that the rest of the news media would be getting to it in this general time frame (watch for it to show up on at least one of the networks soon, I'm told).

Some of the redefining really was because they didn't know what they were doing in the beginning, in terms of deciding what counts and what doesn't. But all of it? Unlikely.

In point of fact, one well-placed government insider I talked to basically considered at least some of what's going on a "coverup" (not my words, but that person's). This insider felt that eventually it would become public knowledge in the future (after things deteriorate) that there had been coverup in this time frame.

Beyond this, there is the question of how good the fixes really are. *That* question is up in the air.

Another important point is basically how much of their problems they'll be able to paper over. Since most of us rarely interact with DC, we won't notice their problems. However, I have reason to believe that some of the failures are already impacting some organizations around the country. Again, though, it's not the sort of thing the average person sees; it has to do with government subsidies going manual.

Ryan is right about DoD. They dropped 1389 systems, from 3695 to 2306 (off the top of my head). That's two-thirds of the total federal decline of 2190 in mission-critical systems, basis OMB numbers, from 8589 to 6399.

The real federal problems- in terms of what will "obviously" (ie, obvious to most people) fail- remain Medicare, the FAA, State, and some other agencies I suspect we don't know about.

-- Drew Parkhill/CBN News (, March 26, 1999.

What do you want to bet that this reporter attended the Media seminar that Ed Yourdon spoke at?

Ed said ...

... But the most interesting part of the day was Dr. Robert Alloway's presentation. Alloway is a retired MIT professor who created the "report card" for Congressman Horn's committee. He showed chart after chart of publicly-available figures (i.e., from the last several Horn reports) in which it was stunningly obvious that the main reason several Congressional agencies have been able to show "progress" is that they have steadily reduced the number of systems categorized as "mission-critical." If I remember correctly, the Department of Agriculture identified approx 1,200 mission-critical systems in the spring of 1997; 18 months later, they had reduced that number to approx 300.

One of the media people in the audience interrupted at this point and asked (this is not quite verbatim, but pretty darn close), "Why weren't we told about this?" Sitting in the back of the room, I almost fell off my chair in amazement: these are reporters, for crying out loud! Dr. Alloway politely responded to the question by reminding them that all of this information was publicly available.  ...

Maybe it did change some media minds, Ed.


See threads ...

Journalists Struggling With Y2K Coverage 000a0L

And ...

Newsmedia Only -- One Day Y2K Seminar In New York Feb.23rd 000VWk

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 26, 1999.

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