DoD, Services, Determined to Keep Personnel Files, Actions Safe from Y2K
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 30, 1999 If you've been wondering whether the Year 2000 computer problem could suddenly erase your very existence as a service member at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, then worry no more.
DoD officials say the services are making steady and strong progress in fixing computer systems that manage and store personnel files. Indeed, the Marine Corps and the Air Force personnel files systems are already Y2K-compliant, according to Norma St. Claire, director of Joint Requirements and Integration for the Office of the Undersecretary of Personnel and Readiness.
That's good news, because every personnel action processed on you is stored in those files. From enlistment papers to promotion orders, from training records to awards, from re- enlistment to changes of duty station -- it's all there.
"The Marine Corps and Air Force systems have been tested, fielded, verified as Y2K-compliant and are working today," St. Claire said. "The Navy and Army are making steady progress and are expected to have all their systems ready by the end of September. They both have ambitious and aggressive fielding schedules for updating software and replacing existing systems that cannot be fixed."
The Year 2000 problem, nicknamed "Y2K," refers to the past computer industry practice of writing years with just two digits - 1999 would be "99." Because of this digital shorthand, some computer systems on Jan. 1, 2000, might treat "00" as "1900" or just shut down all together. Almost any computer system may be vulnerable and needs to be checked and then, if necessary, fixed to handle the year change or replaced. A computer system that recognizes the year 2000 date and processes data correctly is called "compliant."
In addition to fixing current systems, the services all have back-up data should any unexpected Y2K glitches occur, according to Mike Monteleone, St. Claire's information technology chief and Y2K manager.
"All the services regularly and routinely back-up their data on off-line storage systems," Monteleone said. "This is done not just because of Y2K, but for any number of problems that could occur, such as electrical outages from storms that may corrupt or delete existing files." An example of "off-line" storage is copying all the files in a system onto a CD-ROM. That way, in case parts of, or an entire system should fail, the files can still be retrieved and reinstalled.
While both St. Claire and Monteleone are confident all services will have their personnel systems ready for the Year 2000, what remains uncertain at this point is processing of personnel actions late into the year. Both DoD and the services are considering either accelerating or delaying certain personnel actions beginning in December.
Among those that could be included are re-enlistments and extensions, awards, separations, retirements and discharges, promotions, training, transfers and nonessential travel.
"DoD and the services are considering it, but no decisions have been made at this time," St. Claire emphasized. "There's no easy answer to this one. It's just something we're going to have to monitor throughout the year."
St. Claire said DoD is considering such action to try to reduce the paperwork and stress on the entire system, since personnel actions often require actions by a host of other agencies. For example, promotions automatically prompt pay changes, and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service has already recommended minimizing pay changes in the month of December.
"So we have to keep in mind that our actions are not just affecting our systems," St. Claire said. "It's not that we don't believe the systems will work, it's just that personnel systems interact with so many others, the less stress we put on all of them at the end of the year the better."
There are also factors beyond the control of the services, Monteleone said. "If power failures occur because of Y2K, regardless of whether your system works, without electricity, you'll have to process personnel actions manually, and that will just slow things down." The good news, he added, is that personnel actions normally slow down in December anyway.
"Usually a large portion of personnel are off during the holidays and incoming transactions are substantially less," he said. "It's not like the first week of June, when you've got many people changing duty stations."
Monteleone said the personnel actions at greatest risk are those occurring in the final days of 1999 that may not yet have been stored on back-up systems. "But even with those, there is a paper copy and the information can be recreated in the systems, he said.
So will there be any glitches with personnel files because of Y2K?
Possibly, St. Claire and Monteleone say. Personnel information systems involve literally thousands of computer applications and interfaces, and something may fail.
"We're good at fixing things, but we're not perfect," Monteleone said. "What we and the services are ensuring is that there will be no critical impact. There may be some power outages, there may be an interface that's down for a couple of days and will slow things down, but personnel files will still be there."
The bottom line, St. Claire said, "is that I think we're going to be in good shape. I have every reason to believe all our systems will be compatible and ready."
Y2K or not, however, St. Claire said it's important for service members to maintain copies of important documents in their files, such as promotion orders, awards and training.
"It just makes good sense to have those kinds of records in hand in case you need them," she concluded.