Y2K mayhem? Just ho-hum

January 10, 2000
By FCW Staff

The biggest Year 2000 problem for the federal government may have been getting stuck at work during the celebrations. As computer systems functioned through Zulu time, midnight Eastern Time and the good times, millennium bug watchers may have felt a bit let down.

Simple repairs and some red faces followed a series of minor glitches. For example: n A few alarm systems and computerized locks failed, but were fixed in short order. n A power plant in Wisconsin shut down briefly. n The Energy Department’s headquarters could not receive updates from a system at one of its national labs. n A backup system at a regional Federal Aviation Administration site failed but also was fixed quickly and posed no significant threat to safety. n A software glitch at the Department of Veterans Affairs was discovered that could have resulted in VA invoices being dated 1900 instead of 2000. n Justice Department switch that relays information from FBI crime information databases systems to other agencies relayed information just fine, but dated it as 01/01/100. n Perhaps most amusing of all, the World Wide Web page for the Naval Research Laboratory’s Director of Time proclaimed briefly that we had arrived at the Year 19000100. Not all the problems were trivial, however. One of the more serious failures crippled the software used to process firearms licenses at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The ATF temporarily halted its licensing operations for five days.

Another significant Year 2000 failure popped up in one of the Defense Department’s satellite-based intelligence systems. Although DOD announced that the system was down for two hours during the date change, the event remains a tightly guarded secret. There are other failures in DOD that remain classified, according to a DOD source, adding to the argument that we may never fully know the extent to which DOD operations were affected.

Overall, so little happened that agencies might find it difficult to convince the IT rank and file that the next big challenge— security— is a challenge at all. "We cried wolf and then apparently nothing happened," said John Pike, a defense analyst for the Federation of American Scientists. "Not even a stoplight conked out."

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