Essay, Research Paper: Year 2000 Problem


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Summary: It was astonishing to find how unprepared the government is for this
potentially devastating problem facing the American people. The government has
had nearly three years of knowledge about this problem but hasn’t even been
able to get up to the government standards that they set back in 1996. The
government is really lagging behind and could essentially destroy the American
economy if they keep up the performance they are currently demonstrating. The
government appears to have let the American people down. The government is now
starting to realize what a dramatic effect this could have on the entire world
including the US. The most powerful country may be brought to its knees because
of some little flaw in writing codes for computers in the last fifty years. This
microscopic line of code could inevitably destroy the entire world’s economy
and also possibly cause a malfunction of the world’s nuclear arsenal. This
could cause them to fire at will or even just detonate in their silos.
Furthermore it is very critical to observe the governments efforts in trying to
bring this enormous problem to be fixed by falsifying Y2K compliance on many of
its computers. Included are two graphs and a chart. The chart is the schedule
the government was intending to stick to. It is called an immovable deadline and
fixed schedule. One of the graphs demonstrates the proposed cost of fixing the
Year 2000 bug. It is broken down into estimates of the total cost per year. The
final graph is the grades the 24 major agencies received on their preparation
for becoming Y2K compliant. With all of this information one can really
understand how greatly the government underestimated the entire problem. They
underestimated costs, and time it would take to upgrade and implement the
programs. This truly demonstrates how poorly the government is being run and
what kind of people we all have elected into office. To begin, here is a little
information about what all of the hype is about. Arie van Deursen, of The
Economist, describes what the major problem with the Y2K bug is. “The
Year/2000 problem is about two-digit dates. But there is more to it. The year
2000 is a leap year; some programs know this. They check whether a year is
divisible by four, and conclude that 2000 is a leap year. Or, they’re more
rigorous and aware of the exception: a year divisible by 100 as well is not a
leap year — unless it’s also divisible by 400. So neither 1900 nor 2100 are
leap years — but 2000 is. Many programs, however, incorrectly treat the year
2000 as a non-leap year. This may stem from the use of two-digit dates (i.e.,
"00" is treated as 1900 rather than 2000). Usually, the programmer had
the wrong algorithm in mind. A common error is assuming centuries are never leap
years. Here, the programmer forgets the "exception to the exception."
The other common error is, believing the year 2000 cannot be a leap year. This
may be a result of believing leap years cannot be divisible by 1,000 (rather
than 100). The leap year problem is serious. Consider the $1 million in damages
caused by the failure of control computers in a New Zealand aluminum smelter.
The computers could not deal with the 366th day of 1996. Similar and larger
crashes are likely in 2000.”(3) Duersen also talks about problems after the
Year 2000 hits. “Luckily, there may be a ray of hope. For most of the systems,
we have 31 + 28 = 59 extra days to solve the leap year problem; that is,
assuming we have time available in those first eight weeks of the year
2000.”(3) Also included is a progress chart issued by the government to chart
advancement in updating and upgrading services and hardware. This chart also
contains some progress figures. They claim that only fifty percent of the
twenty-four agencies have completed their assessments by August 1997. They also
claim that seventy percent of the total estimated cost comes from those agencies
that aren’t finished assessing their systems. This program was implemented on
June 9, 1997. This completely demonstrates the lack of respect the government
had for this problem. As reported in The Year 2000 Journal, the author talks
about the lack of interest on the part of the government. “As 2000 approaches,
it will increasingly preoccupy policy makers and the public too. Because the
millennium-bug problem is so trivial, senior managers have found it hard to take
seriously, and politicians have found it even harder. Only two heads of
government have given speeches on the subject: Britain’s Tony Blair (with a
sure instinct for a gap in the world market for leadership), and, more recently,
Bill Clinton. The Group of Eight top industrial countries and the European heads
of government both stitched a few lines on the millennium bug into communiquйs
earlier this year. But for most politicians, the issue is barely on the
radar.”(2) There also are some estimates that I will include that came from
the government. The government estimated in 1995 that to get all of the
government computers to be Y2K compliant it would cost $20 billion. In 1996 the
number doubled to more than $40 billion. However in 1997, now that the
government understands all of the things that must be accomplished, the estimate
ballooned to a number between $1.3 to $1.6 trillion! This is just one more
example of the mass underestimation of the problem on the entire government’s
part. There were a few problems I ran into while doing this research. First was
the lack of articles in print other than those on the Internet. This is good and
bad. This is good in the idea that it is all very current information. It is
also bad because it is hard to tell how reliable these on-line journals really
are. What I heard on the news and read in the newspapers also backed up most of
the information I found. The Second problem I ran into was the constant lack of
concrete information of the amount of money spent on the problem so far. I got
some rough estimates of the cost to fix the problem but not the real specific
amounts of money spent up to date. The third problem was the amount of
difficulty in searching the web for current and relevant information. I can’t
imagine the hours I spent tracking dead-ends and useless information. The final
problem I ran into was the huge amount of information about many different ideas
and agencies. This was good but made it very difficult to key in on one certain
agency. My method of data collection was very limited. I was stuck using only
the Internet and other on-line journals. This was very efficient because they
were free and I could access them any time of the day. I also was required to
subscribe to several mailing lists and e-mail newsletters. I used the Houston
Business Journal, The Economist, The Year 2000 Journal, The Scotsman, and also
Australian Financial Review. These are all available for free on the Internet,
and also are updated either weekly, bi-weekly, and some are even updated daily.
These are some of the results that I have come across while conducting my
research. According to Vince Sampson, also from The Economist, “A heavy toll
is already being paid. The IRS has set aside $800 million specifically for the
Year 2000 problem. States are doing the same. Texas has set aside $110 million;
California has budgeted $50 million. At least at the legislative level,
governments seem to know they must deal with this impending catastrophe.”(5)
He continues “What will be the effect of this accountability? Certainly, there
may be civil liability for negligence resulting in injury or monetary loss.
Apart from this is the notion of an implied contract with the citizens. The idea
is that public-sector entities owe some duty to citizens to provide basic
services in return for the payment of taxes. The failure to provide these
services is seen as a breach of this implied contract.”(5) This also tells us
that all of the information on who paid taxes for the last several years could
be lost very easily. There would be no way to prove someone did or did not. This
is just one of the major catastrophes that could happen. This is very scary and
could truly ruin our nation's economy and freedom that we have come to grow and
love. I found some very interesting information in the on-line journal called
The Scotsman. “"The picture is a gloomy one," said Stephen Horn, a
US senator, warning of possible breakdowns in the Medicare payments system,
electrical blackouts and telecommunications havoc. But John Koskinen, of the
Year 2000 Council, said agencies were making strides and major systems would be
ready for 2000 or on track to be so by the end of 1999. He said the real problem
was with local governments, small companies and countries "that are at
square one". Horn has been putting out quarterly ratings of how 24 US
federal agencies are coping with the Y2K problem. As in August, he gave the
administration an overall "D" rating for its progress in fixing
computers and telecommunications systems and drawing up contingency plans for
breakdowns. The Defense Department, which has made 52 percent of its
mission-critical systems ready for 2000, got a "D-" grade. Marks of
"F" went to the departments of Justice, Energy, Health and Human
Services and State. He said State was only 36 per cent fixed and at this rate
would not have its systems fixed until 2034. A State Department official said
the 36 percent figure was accurate but the agencies were expecting substantial
improvements in the next report and plan to be fully corrected for 2000 by next
August. At Health and Human Services' Health Care Financing Administration,
which operates Medicare, only seven of 100 mission-critical systems are Y2K
compliant, Horn said. "If HCFA does not accelerate its efforts
dramatically, failure of Medicare's systems is inevitable."”(6) I have
included a pie graph of the grades received by the 24 major agencies. This is
very shocking and really puts into perspective how slow the government is going
in their effort to fix this potentially catastrophe. The question has arisen to
the readiness of our nuclear weapons. This is a headline that I came across: US
Nuclear Agency Fails Y2K Testing. This was obtained in the journal Australian
Financial Review. A few of the highlights are as follows. “The agency that
manages the US Government's nuclear weapons stockpile is testing its most
critical computers in the wake of Pentagon inspectors' discovery that no one had
verified whether key systems could withstand year 2000 problems. The Defense
Special Weapons Agency was not alone in certifying computers millennium-bug safe
without independent testing, said the Pentagon's Inspector-General's Office,
which found only 25 percent of the agency's "mission critical" defense
computer systems had been tested. The agency agreed with the audit findings,
although the agency's acting director, Mr. George Ullrich, said in a September
30 letter to the Inspector-General's office that agency officials had been
unaware that independent testing was needed to verify a system would not crash
in 2000. Instead, agency officials believed "systems could be
'self-certified' with the aid of a check list", Mr. Ullrich wrote, noting
that Pentagon policy before April 1997 did not require testing. The Inspector
General noted in a June 5 report that only 25 per cent of the 430 critical
Pentagon computer systems that had been tested were certified as Y2K compliant.
As a result, the report warned: "Systems may unexpectedly fail because they
were classified as year 2000 compliant without adequate basis."(1) This
really gives the government a good public relations view. They make it seem like
people just shake dice or draw cards to see if something is Y2K compliant or
not. If this doesn’t demonstrate how lazy and inept some federal employees are
then I don’t know what does. If this isn’t bad enough it goes on to
illustrate that forty percent of the government’s mission critical computers
are run by these fools. “This has nothing to do with command and control of
nuclear weapons. The Defense Special Weapons Agency --which was absorbed into a
new Defense Threat Reduction Agency on October 1 has managed and tested the
nation's nuclear weapons stockpile since 1947. It also verifies arms control
treaties and pacts. The Pentagon, which operates about 40 percent of computers
that the US Government considers critical to carrying out the Government's
mission, has been trying for several years to ensure systems do not crash when
the calendar turns from 1999 to 2000.”(1) One of the best articles that I came
across was one in The Economist, which stated what anyone who knows anything
about this problem feels. “Such dire predictions thrive on the impossibility
of saying with certainty how much is likely to go wrong. One of the many
extraordinary aspects of the Year 2000 problem is the range of unknowns it
reveals. Nobody really knows how widespread it is; how much of it will be fixed;
and what it will cost to fix. The curious truth is that the carriers of the
bug—computer hardware, software and microchips, which account for so much of
the productive power of modern economies—are measured and monitored far less
carefully than the economy’s stock of machines, vehicles and buildings.”(2)
Throughout this entire analysis of the government’s efforts to ensure the
readiness for the Y2K bug I have found out more about the government than I ever
wanted to know. I have learned that they are the worst procrastinators this
country has ever seen. I have truly learned how inept the federal government
really is. This is a program that could impact our society so strongly that it
isn’t even funny. They just stand around and ponder how they should approach
these problems and try to wait until they are going to go broke financing a
program that would have been half as expensive if they would have started
planning earlier and more precisely. “The United States accounts for around
one-fifth of world output but one-third of its computer base.”(2) The
government has to finally realize what a big concern this is for the entire
world not just the US. If the US can get it’s problems fixed why can’t
everyone else. The government really has a chance to show everyone how well they
work under pressure.

Bibliography1. Australian Financial Review,,
November 30,1998, Accessed on 12/01/98. 2. Cairncross, Frances, The millennium
computer bug is totally predictable in its timing, but completely unpredictable
in its effects. Its greatest danger, writes Frances Cairncross, lies in that
uncertainty, “Year 2000 Journal”,, September
19,1998, Accessed on 11/02/98. 3. Deursen, Arie van. The Year/2000 Leap Year
Problem: Get Ahead of It, But Don’t Jump to Conclusions!, “The Economist”,, Oct.
26-Nov 2. Accessed on 11/02/98. 4. Houston Business Journal,|2000,
September 9, 1996, Accessed on 11/25/98. 5. Sampson, Vince, Year/2000 Legal
Issues: The Public Sector, “The Economist”,,
Oct. 26-Nov. 2, Accessed on 11/02/98. 6. The Scotsman Online Edition,, Accessed on
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