I'm sure we are all anxious to hear, from the representatives of these
several branches or bodies of our U.S. Government, about the overall
plan that our Government, as a whole, has in place to solve or at least
ameliorate the Year 2000 problem of many computer systems. Perhaps
we'll only hear about what the Government is doing for its own
operations. But we should really hear what the Government's plan is for
the entire United States.
FOR THE GOVERNMENT ITSELF
I will myself be happy to learn which body has overall responsibility to
coordinate the plan, to publish the plan and its schedules for the
entire population to see, to choose and tell us where it will be
published, and what part each citizen is expected to play so that the
plan may be successful. So far I have not seen this, even on the Web. I
do read of Congresspeople who don't know, either, but have suggestions
about what to do.
I am curious to know the scope and probabilities for the methods that
will be used to assess relative completion of the work, with both
current extrapolations and schedule of revised extrapolations, if
necessary. Only then may we be sure it will be done in time.
I am especially sensitive to this last. When employed by the General
Electric Computer Department I would attend meetings where some design
and manufacture project was authorized because Marketing said they could
sell 18 of something within six months. Believing these honest
salespeople, I would ask, in another such meeting when those 6 months
had passed, how many they had actually sold to the projections. They
were not only shocked that I would ask such a question (when in fact
they had not sold any), but irate with me for asking that they tell the
For any of you unaware of the sequel, that General Electric Computer
Department is out of business! No great harm there. But should we let
the U.S. Government go out of business? We might live without parts of
it, but not without the total entity that supports the requirements of
If you have forgotten (I admit I had to look it up) -- the Preamble to
the Constitution of the United States says that the purpose of that
Government is largely to:
"... insure domestic tranquillity,
provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare, ... "
FOR THE COUNTRY -- ITS PEOPLE
The Year 2000 problem is not just a computer program problem. Those
programs reflect, and in some cases, control our lives. So it's a people
I'd like to hear about what Government components are doing about the
problem in their customary roles. Not only how they're changing their
computer programs, but how they are governing such change in the entire
country. Regulatory roles, for instance, like banning saccharin, even
though it turned out harmless. Dare I say airbags? But one cannot help
noticing that there are some Y2K companies out there, even
publicly-traded companies, that are selling nothing but best efforts,
without guarantees of schedule or actual success.
I am reminded of a wallpaper my wife once bought for a joke. For our
mountain house, that is, where only good friends would see it. The
design was nothing but patent medicine ads from days of unabashed
deception. If those nostrums had worked as advertised, all of our great
great grandparents would still be alive! My point is that government
does not permit and condone fraudulent advertising any more.
So I'd like to know (wouldn't you?) about the first Y2K company to be
prosecuted for false advertising of a harmful product (believe me, if
the product doesn't work it will be VERY harmful). Where does the
responsibility lie? With the Federal Trade Commission? The Food and
Drug Administration? Has the Congress legislated the appropriate
penalties for these Federal crimes? Is there a distinction in
sentencing? Is there first-degree and second-degree Year 2000 fraud, to
guide the predatory lawyers out there? The judges should know, too.
What is the Attorney General's position on this?
You may think I am being facetious about this. I am not. I remember
prosecutions for war profiteering, and for selling faulty goods (like
bombs that didn't explode).
And can you imagine the selfishness of the company that just trademarked
the symbol "Y2K" in early November? Where has patriotism gone? And
they've promised to ask you all to cease and desist, or else.
How about the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta? If they can
consider guns a disease, surely the Millennium bug should be in their
What of the Army? They're used for various emergencies abroad. Is
there anyone here who thinks we don't have an emergency here at
What of the U.S. Post Office? They haven't done badly in innovation and
change in the past. We've been educated to the 2-character tokens for
states. And first the 5-digit, and then the 9-digit zipcode. Moreover,
mail put in order on zipcode by computer gets a special rate -- that was
my idea, in 1970.
The Post Office is heavily into advertising now, so why not get the
Cheers postman to tell us about the new dating method on cancellations,
and why we're changing to that year-month-day-hour-minute sequence? It
can make a great story. Of course the meter people will have to
redesign to follow the new requirements.
What of the Department of Transportation? Even if buses, trains, and
airlines run on time -- what time? We'll need new schedules. Perhaps
this is a good time to convert to 24-hour notation.
Ah! The Department of Education! We've got a real and useful task for
them, for a change. Change to rational computer-influenced time will
require much re-education of the general public -- in a hurry. Can they
do it? Where are the computer programs or games to teach this palatably?
Are there time games for the PCs? Videos? Public service spots on
Not least, the Government Printing Office. They have a massive amount
of forms and regulations, which will require corresponding redesign.
Have they started?
Of course many agencies have specialized missions, and cannot be be
tapped for such roles. For example, the Social Security Administration,
and I hope we shall hear some good news from them today.
But perhaps all such questions will be answered today and tomorrow. But
if not, and they are still valid questions, what is the next step, to be
taken by whom? So you're all welcome to hear, find out, and decide for