Feds: We'll Be Ready For Y2K

The Social Security Administration is readying jet-fueled generators, the Internal Revenue Service is prepared to write tax refund checks manually and the Pentagon is sharing secrets with the Russians as part of a government effort to avoid crises related to the Y2K computer problem.

IRS chief information officer Paul Cosgrave, questioned at a House hearing Friday about concerns that the tax agency was prone to Y2K disruptions, gave assurances that systems are ready and no one will lose a refund check.

Federal agencies are given high marks for fixing computers so they won't misread the year 2000 for 1900, a mistake that could cause widespread computer breakdowns. Friday's hearing focused on the contingency plans the agencies have for unexpected problems and what they'll be doing just before and after the new year.

The White House office on the Y2K problem, headed by John Koskinen, is to run an information coordination center to monitor developments in the public and private sectors as the new year begins. Most agencies will have command centers to assure a smooth transition to the new millennium.

John Dyer of the Social Security Administration said his agency will take its system off-line on Dec. 30 to allow the collection of all 1999 computer transactions, and that just before midnight on the 31st the main data center in Baltimore will switch to jet-fueled generators to guard against electrical surges.

Dr. Martin Langston, the Defense Department's top Y2K official, said the on-duty staff will be boosted by up to 10 percent in the New Year period. Russian military officials will arrive in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Dec. 22 for a joint exercise aimed at assuring that problems in early warning tracking systems don't lead to mistaken perceptions that the other side has launched a missile.

Norman Lorentz, chief technology officer of the Postal Service, said the mail agency has placed a freeze on all computer systems changes through March. Postal officials expect more people to mail letters because of concerns about the reliability of computer e-mail.

Joel Willemssen of the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the Education Department is encouraging schools to obtain information before Jan. 1 so it won't have problems in determining student financial aid eligibility.

The Veterans Affairs Department has suggested that its hospitals prepare bottled water and stock waterless soap for the possibility that water supplies are interrupted.

Although IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti stated that the quality of the IRS' inventory [equipment] poses a high risk to the Y2K effort, he added, "If problems surface when the clocks roll over into the new year, we will be prepared to deal with them before they begin to affect taxpayers."