Year 2000 Computing Crisis:

USDA Faces Tremendous Challenges in Ensuring That Vital Public Services Are Not Disrupted

T-AIMD-98-167: Published: May 14, 1998. Publicly Released: May 14, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its views on what additional actions must be taken to reduce the nation's year 2000 risks, focusing on: (1) an overview of the potential impact of the century change on the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) mission; (2) how the department is structured to address the crisis; (3) how much work remains to be completed; (4) the efforts of ten of USDA's component agencies and the department as a whole; and (5) the year 2000 status at the Farm Credit Administration (FCA) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

GAO noted that: (1) the public faces the risk that critical services could be severely disrupted by the year 2000 computing crisis; (2) the federal government is extremely vulnerable to year 2000 problems due to its widespread dependence on computer systems to process financial transactions, deliver vital public services, and carry out its operations; (3) USDA's Chief Information Officer is responsible for leading USDA's preparation for the year 2000 date change and ensuring that all critical USDA information systems are year 2000 compliant and operational; (4) direct accountability for assessing, renovating, validating, and implementing systems conversion, however, rests with USDA's 31 component agencies, which include staff offices; (5) USDA's component agencies have a great deal of work still to be accomplished in the next 19 months in making its mission-critical systems ready for the year 2000; (6) although agencies should have completed the assessment phase of year 2000 readiness last summer, critical assessment tasks for many USDA agencies remain unfinished; (7) the component agencies judged systems to be mission-critical in an inconsistent manner; (8) the oversight provided by the USDA's Year 2000 Program Office has been limited to monthly meetings with component agency executive sponsors, regularly scheduled meetings on topics such as telecommunications and reviews of monthly status reports, and written guidance on awareness and assessment; (9) FCA regulates, and performs periodic examinations of, the entities that make up the Farm Credit System; (10) FCA has not called for the regulated institutions to develop business continuity and contingency plans unless certain deadlines are not met or service providers and software vendors have not provided adequate information about their year 2000 readiness, or where the provider or vendor solutions do not appear viable; (11) although CFTC has not yet reviewed the year 2000 readiness of the self-regulatory organization (SRO) member institutions, it has worked with the SRO audit organization; and (12) while CFTC has taken some action to address the effect the year 2000 will have on the futures and options markets, the potential major disruption that the year 2000 could hold for these markets suggests that the commission should take a strong leadership role in providing reasonable assurance that the futures and options markets will be year 2000 compliant in time.

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