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Hamre: Y2K Won't Stop Your Pay

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 1999 – The Year 2000 computer problem won't affect DoD's ability to pay service members, and troops don't need to do anything special to protect their personnel or medical records, Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre said here Jan. 14.

The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K" and "millennium bug," refers to the computer industry's past practice of using the last two digits of years rather than all four -- 1999 would be written "99." Old hardware and software are widely used and no one really knows what they'll do on Jan. 1, 2000 -- they might treat "00" as "1900." Government and industry are scrambling for "compliance" -- assurance their systems will handle the year change correctly.

Hamre said all DoD pay systems are already Y2K-compliant, and DoD will continue to test the systems in March and April to ensure they will work.

"It's more complicated than just, 'Will our computers properly calculate pay?'," Hamre said. "We have to get electrons over to the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department has to pass on those electrons to the banks. The banks have to spread it out all over. We have something like 800 banks we do business with on a day-to-day basis." He said DoD is working with all concerned to make sure pay will continue to flow.

He said personnel and medical computer systems are also Y2K-compliant.

Hamre said the Defense Department will be able to defend the United States and its vital interests in 2000 despite the millennium bug. He stood by his characterization from last October that DoD's Y2K problem will be more a "nuisance" than a crisis.

"We will have about 94 percent of our systems fixed as of the end of March, and we absolutely will have 100 percent done by the end of the year," he said. As of Jan. 1, he noted, 1,673 of DoD's 2,304 mission-critical systems had been been fixed.

Hamre said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen energized the unified commands by declaring Y2K a "warfighter problem" and directing them to fix their mission-critical systems.

Hamre said the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., for instance, tested the aerospace-warning segment of its systems in December. The tests were robust and covered all the dates that system analysts believe might cause problems, he said.

"They found there was no degradation in any of the systems, whether they were in the virtual Year 2000 environment or in the 1998 environment," said Army Lt. Col. Warren Patterson, a Joint Staff Year 2000 official. "Systems operated as they should as far as the data going into one end and out the other, within the prescribed timeframe. [It was] accurate, unambiguous, clean data. We are highly confident at this point that NORAD can do its early-warning mission."

The Atlantic, Southern, Strategic, Transportation and Space commands will run Y2K tests in February. Pacific Command will begin tests in March. Central and European commands and U.S. Forces, Korea, will begin testing in April. Commands will test both primary and backup computer systems, Hamre said.

He said DoD is working with NATO allies on millennium bug problems. DoD has been in contact with 30 to 40 countries, including Russia. He said Y2K doesn't seem so urgent to the Russians -- "They have other problems." Still, the United States and Russia will cooperate on building a shared early warning center. Hamre said a DoD delegation will go to Russia to finalize plans for the center.

He said he's "comfortable" that Russia has positive control over its nuclear weapons. "The [computer] default for failure is not to launch," he said. "The default freezes things up. So we're not anxious that there are going to be accidental occurrences as a result of Y2K for nuclear command and control systems."

DoD also will participate in U.S. consequence support planning. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will probably be the lead element, Hamre said. DoD will set up its own Y2K command center and participate in Y2K operations in December; there is no plan now, however, to mobilize the Guard or active duty service members for Y2K operations.

"We're not going to know the extent to which and how we should best support the civil sector until we go through some planning," Hamre said. "People shouldn't be anxious about that. We will be ready to support whatever has to happen, but we're not going to know the dimension of that yet for another couple of weeks. Nobody's going to lose their Christmas, I don't believe, worrying about that problem."

Hamre said the U.S. telecommunications system is in good shape, as is the power grid. "Will we have spot outages? Probably," he said. "But we'll be able to handle them."

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