US government is set to collapse into ?electronic chaos? with the arrival of the millennium, according to a White House committee investigating the readiness of federal computers to cope with the Year 2000 date change.
A special hearing of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee met in Washington on Monday to hear evidence on Year 2000 systems conversion from the chief information officers of six federal departments - state, defense, health, labor, transport and veterans affairs.
But their testimonies revealed widespread ignorance of the Year 2000 problem and inadequate preparation to solve it, aggravated by an underestimate of the true cost of converting systems.
Stephen Horn, chairman of the committee, warned: "Only a few [departments] have specific, realistic plans to solve the problem before the stroke of midnight on the last day of 1999?we face the potential of electronic chaos."
Michael Huerta, acting chief information officer at the Department of Transportation, admitted to the committee: "I didn?t even know there was such a thing as a year 2000 problem until last August. " Huerta?s department has responsibility for the main Federal Aviation Administration computers which co-ordinate US flight paths.
The committee dismissed a White House estimate issued earlier this month that the Year 2000 conversion could be achieved across all federal computers for as little as $2.3 billion. This figure was based on evidence from the CIOs of the various departments.
But at the hearing on Monday, it became clear that those same CIOs were rapidly backtracking from their original figures. The Department of Transportation added a further $10 million to its original budget of $80 million, while the Department of Defense warned that its $1.2 billion cost would certainly go up.
The Labor Department revealed that its $15.3 million estimate only covers the cost of converting the main federal systems and does not include work on linked computers in the state unemployment offices. Making them compliant will add a further $500 million to the bill.
The CIOs were defiant in the face of criticism from the committee. Emmet Paige, CIO at the Defense Department said: "The figures are not important in getting on with the job. As we continue the assessment of systems, the figures will continue to rise."
He added that his department was still not certain which systems needed to be converted and complained that having to take time out to report to the committee was a waste of his overstretched resources.
The readiness of the Internal Revenue Service to cope with the Year 2000 is to be the subject of a separate hearing because of recent controversy about its overall IT strategy, which has been widely condemned in Washington.
Some parts of Atacama have not received rainfall for 500 years - but a sudden deluge of water upset the Desert's delicate biological balance
Spitzer Space Telescope could not spot Oumuamua, suggesting that it is actually pretty small
Greenland crater one of the 25 largest impact craters on Earth
This long-sought progenitor star was identified in an image captured by Hubble in 2007