In his first major speech on the Year 2000 problem, US president Bill Clinton called for more openness about the issue and announced a number of government initiatives.
New measures announced include a proposal for 'Good Samaritan' legislation and a Department of Labor job bank for Y2K workers.
The US president, and his tech-savvy vice president Al Gore, have been under fire from Republicans for not doing enough about the millennium bug. Though the long awaited speech contained no major new financial programmes ? apart from a $12 million contribution to the World Bank?s Y2K initiatives ? industry voices hailed the speech as a breakthrough.
The US government?s main drive is to promote openness and exchange of information about Y2K issues. Clinton said businesses were faced with three challenges - to prepare themselves, to exchange information with other businesses and to accurately and fully inform their customers.
?Today, too many businesses are understandably reluctant to share information, fearing legal complication," Clinton said. He added that the government should take steps to eliminate obstacles.
Clinton will propose legislation that will encourage businesses to be more open about their Y2K problems. This so-called 'Good Samaritan' legislation will shield businesses that share their Y2K information from liability claims based on the disclosed data.
For instance, if a software vendor is forthright in disclosing information about whether its products are Y2K compliant, this company under the proposed legislation can not be sued if this information is later proven to be incorrect.
Clinton also said it was important to inform customers, in order to avoid consumer overreaction. ?If ordinary citizens believe they?re being told the full story, they?ll be far less likely to act in ways that could themselves hurt our economy," he said.
A second government initiative is the creation by the Department of Labor of a job bank of Y2K workers. Clinton also made an appeal to IT retirees to return to work.
?I will ask these older Americans to set aside their well earned rest and help our nation to meet this challenge,? he said.
Clinton also announced a National Campaign for Year 2000 Solutions, to be launched later this month. The campaign will promote public and private sector action and foster information sharing.
In his speech, Clinton pointed at some of the initiatives already taken. In February 1998, the government created a President?s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, headed by John Koskinen. And the Small Business Administration (SBA) is encouraging small businesses to determine their Y2K risk by conducting a self assessment test posted on the SBA home page.
Clinton acknowledged that the US government must first put its own house in order. He said he had set a government-wide goal of full compliance by March 1999. He said important progress had already been made, with the Social Security Administration already having more than 90 per cent of its 'critical' systems ready.
Clinton urged Congress to approve funding for Y2K in the 1999 budget, and to provide contingency funding so the government can react to unforeseen difficulties.
He acknowledged that not all Y2K problems will be solved by 1 January 2000. He said the government was developing ?contingency plans? in case of critical system failures, and urged businesses to do the same.
The Information Technology Association of America, which has long pushed for a Presidential initiative on Y2K, hailed the speech as a ?good start?.,p> ?We welcome the president?s remarks today and see them as a sign that this Administration is ready to engage on this difficult situation," said ITAA president Harris Miller. Miller pointed out that the president?s prestige is needed to deal with the various Y2K related issues.
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