An official with the state of Pennsylvania warns that it is not enough to get a system internally compliant. It must also be externally compatible. This is the problem of interoperability. Hardly anyone is paying attention to it.
Well, how could they? They don't have funding or staff to complete the internal repair, let alone interoperability. But the problem is real, even though, economically, it is not being dealt with and will not be dealt with. Just because a problem can't be solved in the time remaining doesn't mean it isn't real.
This appeared in GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY (Dec.).
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While most state agencies are busy making sure their own computer systems are year-2000 compliant, less attention has been paid to the crucial issue of whether one agency's year-2000 conversion will work with that of another, said Larry Olson, Pennsylvania's deputy secretary for information technology. The question of data compatibility looms particularly large between state and federal government agencies, said Olson, where the inability to transfer electronic information could have wide-ranging impact.
"We are so networked now between all [levels of government] that this has the potential of completely disrupting the services that we deliver to our citizens," he said. "We now look at this as an economic viability issue -- not a technical issue." . . .
Olson first raised the issue of data compatibility in July during a speech to the National Governors' Association annual meeting. "As most groups go about making year-2000 changes, they are failing to take into account the numerous data exchanges that are handled on a daily basis," he said. "Much of their hard work could be undone in an instant if they start exchanging data with an outside group that has not been so diligent." . . .
Noting that Pennsylvania has identified nearly 600 data interfaces between its own state agencies and federal agencies or third-party interests, Olson called the state/federal summit a vital step in safeguarding the state's year-2000 effort. "If we can't receive good, accurate information from our data partners, it doesn't matter whether we're in good shape or not. We'll still be impacted," said Olson. "We're trying to get across that you're not an island. You have to deal with your data partners -- better now than later." . . .
Disruption in the flow of data between states and the federal agencies could impact some of government's most basic functions.
Steve Kolodney, chairman of NASIRE's Year-2000 Committee, said benefit programs -- such as those providing welfare payments and food stamps -- which are funded by the federal government and administered by the states, face the greatest danger. "In conjunction with that are a whole set of eligibility questions, all of which require some kind of data interaction with the federal government," added Kolodney, director of the Department of Information Services in Washington state. "Now, with welfare reform and limitations on the amount of time anybody can receive federal welfare payments, you have to be able to manage people who are moving from place to place.
Law enforcement is another area of concern, according to Olson. In particular, he pointed to computerized FBI information on out-of-state felons. "If you can't check the information from other states through the FBI system, then you're without a tool to protect citizens," he said.
Lack of year-2000 data interchange standards also threatens cutting-edge efforts like electronic commerce, Olson added. "If the data you ship me is bad data because of year 2000, I can't use it."