THE MILLENNIUMBUG - The history of Y2K, and our govenrment's involvement : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I found this link, posted by Brian, in another thread. It's kinda long, and may already be posted here, so I'll just post the link. It's from the Washington Post, dated July 18...


This is just another confirmation to what I, and others here, have been saying. Our own government, the DOD, caused the Y2K problem. Vendors, like IBM, wanting the big DOD $$$$$, designed their operating systems to return two digit years. They designed their compilers to return a two digit year. Heck, the old System/360 already did this, and since DOD didn't care, why should they change the brand new System/370?

A few snips:

"Harry White says that back in 1968, he was opposed to a two-digit year. He did not exactly foresee the extent of the Y2K problem but there was something about two digits that offended his sense of the rightness of things: "If it is four digits," he says, "it is everlasting."

But FIPS 4 was produced by a committee, White explains. A committee. When a committee tries to design a horse, it can come up with a jackass.

On the committee were representatives of several government agencies, among them the Office of Management and Budget, NASA, the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense. Defense was by far the biggest computer user in the federal government, probably in the world, White says, and its input was disproportionately influential. The Defense Department, he says, opposed the four-digit year because it would have meant rewriting all its programs, and all the supporting data. Defense had bigger worries. We were neck deep in Vietnam.

Besides, White says, there was a much larger issue on the table: the precise order in which the day, month and year would be written. DOD wanted to keep its system, familiar to Europeans and the American military: day/month/year. Others wanted the standard month/day/year sequence, the way Americans write it on personal correspondence. Whether years would be four digits or two seemed a minor matter. Even those people like Bemer and White, who sensed a problem, had no real understanding of its potential scope: In the 1970s few people anticipated how thoroughly computers would come to dominate our lives.

Eventually, White says, Defense gave up on the issue of the order of the date, but it held fast on the two-digit year."


"Who screwed up? Was anyone in particular behind this?

Harry White shuffles his papers.

"The director of data standards for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I used to work for him.""

A few technical notes:

1) FIPS = Federal Information Processing Standard, a "programming standard" used by the whole US government. Older COBOL compilers had a "FIPS flagger" option, that would scan the source program, and flag anything that was not FIPS. Two digit years were NOT flagged, even YEARS after ANSI standard X3.30 was established.

2) "When a committee tries to design a horse, it can come up with a jackass." This is going to my Dilbert collection...

So, what's the latest .gov spin? <:)=

-- Sysman (, August 06, 1999


Wow, just plain wow. Unreal that Weingarten's July 18 article went unnoticed here untill now. Nice catch Sysman.

Bemer's assessment of programmer approach reminds me of this much ballyhooed posting.

-- Carlos (, August 06, 1999.

Something this stupid and catestrophic and EXPENSIVE...just HAD to be a Government program!!

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@It's ALL going away in, August 06, 1999.

Make that blasted not ballyhooed.

-- Carlos (, August 06, 1999.

Hi Carlos,

I guess I had the last word on that thread, huh? One of the few areas where I am optimistic, using the year as a divisor. That, and the "pre Y2K" dates, like 6/1 and 9/9.

But hey, we all gotta be somewhat "optimistic," don't we?

It ain't Y2K yet... <:)=

-- Sysman (, August 06, 1999.

I ran into a program in 1967 or '68 that had a one digit year code... and was going to fail in 1970! I suggested to my boss that we change it (then) to four digits...she said no! We'd fix it in 1970, to two digits...we'd not have to worry about the year 2000, because the program would be long gone by then.

I promised myself that I'd be out of programming by then. (I am, though still in the computer field).

-- Mad Monk (, August 06, 1999.

This was the same article that had Bemer showing the reporter his Danish made $500.00 water filters. Living Close to D.C I actually thought this four page story would create some public concerns---but then I remembered the good stuff was written on page two!!

-- David Butts (, August 06, 1999.

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