WASHINGTON - Only seven months remain before states confront the much-ballyhooed millennium bug, the Y2K computer glitch.
Nebraska and North Dakota say they have already ensured their computers will function properly on Jan. 1, 2000; 19 other states claim to have completed three-quarters or more of the work. Sixteen more say they have finished at least half the programming needed to become Y2K compliant. But 13 states are less than halfway finished or have failed to report their status, according to the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE), which is monitoring the situation.
Besides Nebraska and North Dakota, states on NASIRE's top ten Y2K compliance list are Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Idaho, New Jersey, New York and Missouri.
California is 25th in Y2K compliance, having completed 71 percent of the job.
States with the most uncompleted work are New Mexico (48 %), Wyoming (43 %), Virginia (33 %), Alabama (30 %), Indiana (25%) and Colorado (16%).
Seven states Arkansas, Oregon, Alaska, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana and Rhode Island -- did not report compliance rates.
Georgia, which has appropriated a whopping $322 million to get its computers ready for 2000, is the state leader when it comes to throwing money at the problem. NASIRE estimates all 50 states will spend a total of $3.3 Billion dealing with the problem.
Getting state government computers prepared for 2000 "entails a very tedious process of fixing software code. It also involves testing and replacing what are called embedded systems," says Mike Adams, creator of y2knewswire.com, an online publication that tracks the problem.
Many state computer functions are critical to public health, safety and welfare.
Adams says a few state bureaucrats and lawmakers underestimate the Y2K problem, or else think it has been solved.
"This is a false idea -- it has not been solved. Progress has been made, and we still have time to avoid the worst impact, but only if we are serious about it, if we are dedicated to it and if people stop denying the problem.We need urgency, but not panic," he says.
For states, assuring that the Y2K bug is fixed translates to a mission of staggering proportions. In Missouri, the task called for 1 million labor hours, enough time for technicians to carefully check some 80 millions lines of code, says Mike Benzen, the state's chief information officer.
"We've been sweeping through all of the code that runs the systems for Medicaid, child support, food stamps, motor vehicles, employment security -- the list goes on and on," says Benzen, NASIRE's president.
If that weren't enough, states also have to deal with the issue of outreach, helping counties and municipalities and businesses prepare themselves for Y2K
"We obviously are not big enough to go out and fix everybody's problem, so it's a thing of evangelizing more than anything else," Benzen says.
Missouri, which has a four-person information systems staff, contracted out much of its work and at one point had 340 people working on Y2K issues. Missouri is spending $57 million for its Y2K fix.