Year 2000 Computing Crisis:

Strong Leadership Today Needed To Prevent Future Disruption of Government Services

T-AIMD-97-51: Published: Feb 24, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 1997.

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GAO discussed the potential serious disruption to critical government functions and services that may result from the upcoming change of century, focusing on the steps agencies can take to reduce the risk of year 2000 computer system failures by making their systems year 2000-compliant.

GAO noted that: (1) if not modified, computer systems or applications that use dates or perform date- or time-sensitive calculations may generate incorrect results beyond 1999; (2) every government program that provides benefits in any way is subject to these problems; (3) correcting the problem will be labor-intensive and time-consuming and must be done while systems continue to operate; (4) every federal agency is at risk of system failures; (5) agencies must begin to address this challenge now, if they have not already started; (6) whether agencies succeed or fail will be largely influenced by the quality of executive leadership and program management; (7) it will be imperative for top agency management, including the agency head and the chief information officer, to not only be fully aware of the importance of this undertaking, but to communicate this awareness and urgency to all agency personnel in such a way that everyone understands why year 2000 compliance is so important; (8) an agency's ability to successfully manage its year 2000 program will also depend on the degree to which the agency has institutionalized key systems development and program management practices, and on its experience in managing large-scale software conversion or systems development efforts; (9) to carry out their year 2000 programs, agencies likewise need to assess their information resources management capabilities and, if necessary, upgrade them; (10) GAO has developed a guide that constitutes a framework that agencies can use to assess their readiness to achieve year 2000 compliance; (11) it provides information on the scope of the challenge and offers a structured, step-by-step approach for reviewing the adequacy of agency planning and management of its year 2000 program; (12) phase 1, awareness, encompasses problem definition and executive support and sponsorship during which the year 2000 team is assembled and an overall strategy developed; (13) in phase 2, assessment, the impact of the century change on the organization is examined, and core business processes are identified; (14) phase 3 is renovation, in which technical systems elements are converted or replaced; (15) in phase 4, validation, replaced elements are thoroughly tested, as is overall performance; (16) finally, phase 5 is implementation where new elements are integrated as part of the system; (17) the year 2000 program should be planned and managed as a single, large information-systems project; and (18) along with planned monitoring, policies and procedures that must be in place include quality assurance, risk management, scheduling and tracking, and budgeting.

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