"Canada Y2K ready, but no guarantees: auditor"

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November 30, 1999

Canada Y2K ready, but no guarantees: auditor

OTTAWA (CP) -- The federal government is ready to face Y2K, but some departments aren't doing enough to prepare for worst-case scenarios, says the auditor general.

The newest report on the Y2K problem from Denis Desautels, released Tuesday, agrees with the government's assessment that its systems and equipment are about 99 per cent ready for the new year.

It commends the government for accelerating work on the millennium bug, after negative auditor reports in 1997 and 1998.

But the newest analysis points out that while all but a couple of departments have fufilled their obligation to prepare Y2K contingency plans, most organizations did not intend to test them fully.

The government's National Contingency Planning Group is conducting exercises to test possible emergency scenarios and those tests involve critical federal departments.

Yet those exercises do not test every part of a given department's contingency plan, meaning that some key elements may be left out.

Six organizations scrutinized by the auditor had vague contingency plans with some components missing.

The auditor general didn't provide recommendations involving deadlines since most departments and agencies are already bogged down trying to get ready for the year 2000.

But the report did underline the importance of the government staying on top of the Y2K issue from now until well after the new year.

It notes there are no guarantees disruptions won't occur, despite the best efforts of programmers and managers. And it reminds officials that insidious errors could pop up after Jan. 1 and create huge headaches if they go undetected.

Guy McKenzie, national spokesman for the federal government on Y2K issues, said officials will monitor the situation well into the new year.

"We don't plan to close the shop on January 1," McKenzie said in an interview.

"We certainly plan to be with a large number of people -- we're going to be operational up to the fiscal year end, and ... we're going to make sure we have a nucleus of people working."

One of the biggest problems is no consistency in methods that computer experts used to prepare systems for the year 2000.

Some programmers changed the computer code to reflect a four-digit year date, which would permanently eliminate the Y2K problem.

Others used a technique which keeps the two-digit year date but uses a program to trick the computer into thinking it is a particular year.

This technique was more easily implemented, but means that systems have to be updated again. For example, the Canada Pension Plan will be able to recognize years up to 2065. When it starts calculating years after that, the system will have to be tweaked again.

The auditor general recommended the government lay down the law with its departments and set a standard for how computers should be run. In fact, the government had a policy as early as 1988 that all computers be run on the basis of a four-digit year date.

Most departments didn't follow that policy, which led to mad rush to fix the systems in time for the year 2000.

The year 2000 bug was born in the 1960s, when computer programmers began using a two-digit code to represent the year. Thus, 99 would represent the year 1999, but 00 would refer to the year 1900 -- not 2000.

Computers that remain unchanged could cause errors, work disruptions and complete shutdowns.

The federal government expects to spend $2.5 billion on the Y2K problem.

-- John Whitley (jwhitley@inforamp.net), December 01, 1999


For what it is worth, the latest Canadian Government assessment as of the 24 of November

 Info2000: Federal Departmental Activity

Now the US has 10 times the population and spent much less (even taking in the Can$$ exchange) per capita.

-- Brian (imager@home.com), December 01, 1999.

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