USDA gets by Y2K, money problems with stopgap measure : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

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A Year 2000-related problem in word processing software used by agencies within the Agriculture Department will prevent workers from saving files after Dec. 31, 1999. And to make matters worse, funding shortfalls will leave thousands of workers sharing laptop computers to do their word processing until new computers can be bought.

The glitch in Word for Unix, a word processing application introduced in the mid-Eighties by Santa Cruz Operation Inc., was discovered earlier this year and will affect workers at hundreds of USDA offices nationwide.

"We found that SCO Word will not let users store a file after Dec. 31, 1999 because the date function that stamps files doesn't work," said Scott Snover, project manager for USDA's Common Computing Environment initiative.

"We requested supplemental funding to purchase enough workstations for most of the people using SCO Word," said Snover. "But the funding provided from the Office of Management and Budget was just enough to make sure there was a new workstation in every officenot for every person."

That means employees at offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development will have to share new computers with Y2K compliant word processing software until funding for more new machines becomes available.

In response to USDA's supplemental funding request, OMB allocated enough money for 500 laptops with docking stations and monitors. "It's not a perfect solution," said Snover. "But most everyone will have access to a new machine for at least part of the day. It's a stopgap measure. Of course it would be better if everyone had a new workstation, but the funding wasn't there to do that."

Workers at county offices for the USDA agencies typically support farmers by providing services including loan financing and payment, biological and engineering support and disaster relief payments. Limited access to a word processing application will not leave hundreds of workers sitting around doing nothing, but it will leave them competing for time on computers with Y2K-compliant word processing software.

The slow move toward Y2K-compliant word processing software is the most recent step in upgrading the technology at the field offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development. In the past, farmers sometimes had to travel to as many as three separate county offices for services from these agencies.

Now, the three agencies are engaged in USDA's Service Center Initiative, which aims to create "one-stop shopping" for farmers. As part of this initiative, the Common Computing Environment was created to enable the three agencies to share data as they become co-located. The agencies are buying new hardware and software to replace three separate outdated computing environments, which prevented data sharing.

Snover has scraped by year to year because his project is not an officially funded program. The 29,000 computers and 7,000 printers he purchased in 1998 and 1999 were procured only after the three agencies agreed on making funds available. "Each year our funding is whatever the agencies want to bring to the table since we don't have separate funding for the project," said Snover. "It's taken time to reach agreement between the agencies on where we need to go. But the thing is, we have to go somewhere."

The agencies have to purchase an additional 9,000 desktop systems before all workers have their own up-to-date workstations.

-- Steve (, December 09, 1999


This must be a non-critical system since everybody knows that all Ag critical systems are Y2K ready.


-- cgbg jr (, December 09, 1999.

This is an incredible story, Steve. Thanks.

Let's see: 500 docking laptops x @ oh, say,$3,000 a pop = $ 1,500,000

Plus 9,000 desktop systems @ what, maybe $2,000 each= $18,000,000

Plus training, lost productivity, software licenses (!) = $1,000,000

$ are conservative SWAGs.

Figure a cool, uneccessary $20 million.

I'm sorry, but somebody at USDA REALLY F***ed up.

-- Lewis (, December 09, 1999.

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