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DoD and the Year 2000 Problem

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 1996 – The year 2000 computer problem could degrade DoD readiness if it is not addressed aggressively and quickly, a top DoD official told Congress, recently.

Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, told the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee DoD has set in motion a campaign to find and fix problem in weapon systems and automated business information systems. He said DoD is treating the problem "as we would a computer virus."

The year 2000 problem is the inability of most computers to tell dates after Dec. 31, 1999. It comes about because they use only the last two digits when computing years. Unless DoD takes action now, on Jan. 1, 2000, many computer systems and software applications will interpret '00 as the year 1900. Paige said identifying the applications where this is a problem will be a long and arduous process.

"The department has an inventory of thousands of systems and hundreds of millions of lines of computer code," he said. "Finding, fixing and testing date-related processing in our systems will require significant resources -- resources that generally have not been planned or programed for this purpose."

Paige said the first emphasis within the department is on weapon systems. "Fortunately, weapon systems are, for the most part, much less date-intensive than most business information systems, so there are far fewer year 2000 fixes which need to be made in them," he said. "Nevertheless, we still have to check all weapon systems for the ... problem. When we are dealing with weapons and their delivery systems, we must leave nothing to chance."

Paige said the Defense Finance and Accounting Service started combating the year 2000 problem in 1991. He said DoD will be able to pay its military members, civilian employees and annuitants when 2000 comes.

DoD and the military services are assessing the extent of the problem and looking to share information within and without. Many DoD elements use the Internet to post such things as lessons learned, best practices and the status of activities. "We must avoid duplication of effort as much as possible," he said.

DoD has some unusual year 2000 problems. One is DoD has a wider variety of software languages than most organizations. "This means we will need a wider variety of software tools to help reduce the time to find and fix year 2000 problems and to validate the solutions through testing," Paige said.

DoD must depend on the private hardware and software industries to fix year 2000 problems in personal computers and workstations. Then, too, solutions found for the private sector may not work on some DoD systems built to military specifications, Paige said.

The fact most systems are tied together further complicates the problem, according to Paige. He said DoD must communicate within and without the department because a fix in one system may cause another system to crash. "If a system fails to properly process information, the result could be the corruption of other data bases, extending perhaps to data bases in other government agencies or countries," Paige said.

Paige said DoD is working with other agencies through the Federal Interagency Year 2000 Committee.

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