Stateline Story

First Y2K Doomsday Passes With Whimper Instead Of Bang

WASHINGTON -- No budget programs crashed, no computers spontaneously combusted, and no lights went out in state capitols as the 46 states which began fiscal year 2000 on July 1 easily cleared the first serious Y2K hurdle.

The only reported glitch was in Nebraska, where computer technicians attempting to upgrade the state's misdemeanor warrants database inadvertently erased all warrants entered in the last five months.

All of the estimated 2,500 warrants have been recovered through backup records, Nebraska State Patrol spokeswoman Terri Teuber said.

Since the budget cycle that began on July 1 will last into the next millennium, July 1, 1999 was considered as important a date for state computer systems as January 1, 2000.

Instead of recognizing that fiscal plans would end on June 30, 2000, technicians worried that computers would have read the budgets' end as 1900, creating havoc in the systems that control everything from benefits check distributions to employee records.

No states have reported that their computers read the budget end date as 99 years before it began, though.

States have appropriated a total of $3.3 billion to ensure their computer systems are Y2K compliant, according to the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.

And so far, that money seems well spent.

"What's significant about this is that it's our first look at an environment of year 2000 data going into a payment file. So people will be very happy to know that the check is indeed in the mail," said Don Heiman, chief information technology officer for Kansas' executive branch.

Heiman said he assigned a crew of 12 to monitor payment and budget programs beginning at midnight on July 1. And as thousands of state workers began logging onto systems that morning, no significant problems were reported.

"Year 2000 issues really go on for about two years, but you're less and less vulnerable as you clear these dates, and this was a key date for us," Heiman said.

After reviewing reports from his state, Ohio Governor Bob Taft issued a press release praising his Y2K team for ensuring a smooth transfer into the new fiscal year.

"As a result of careful planning, state agencies have experienced no interruption in their ability to perform normal fiscal duties," he said.

Ohio has been testing its systems all year by running identical programs, one in real time and one with clocks set ahead. Analysis of the experiments showed that programming changes would work, and the lack of problems after July 1 provided solid confirmation.

The early morning bug watch also turned into a lonely night for Jay McQueen, a member of Indiana's State Steering Committee for Y2K Preparedness. McQueen was assigned to monitor the first hours of the new fiscal year and field reports of problems.

"No one called," McQueen said.

The Indiana Department of Revenue has been addressing Y2K concerns for almost a decade, he said, and actual conversions to new computers and software began in 1996.

The Department was confident of their fixes but careful to maintain paper backups, especially for food stamp programs.

With so many more systems likely to be affected by the turning of the calendar year, officials say they're not out of the woods yet. Overall, though, observers declared the transition to fiscal 2000 a resounding success.

"We've now come to consider July 1 as pretty much a standard workday," said Lester M. Nakamura, administrator of Hawaii's Information and Communication Services Division. "We've been dealing with this all along. It's not a one-day thing."

Despite the good news, Georgia emergency preparedness officials are urging state residents to have a five-day food and water supply on hand New Year's Eve.

"Until the whole world actually goes to double zero, nobody knows what's going to happen. That is why we are suggesting people begin to take a common sense approach to preparing for the it," said Gary McConnell, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).

Officials were careful to recommend gradual preparation to prevent last minute panic, hoarding and impulse buying. GEMA also recommended that residents keep at least half a tank of gas in their cars, have an extra supply of blankets and warm clothes and have extra cash on hand.

"The key is to prepare early and not to panic," McConnell said.

The next big dates on the state Y2K scare list?

Computer experts say some systems could experience hiccups on September 9 of this year, when automated systems will read the date as "9-9-99." That number is significant because four nines were used in early computer programs as an indicator to abort programs. It is hoped that computers will read the date as "09-09-99" instead.

The second big day will be October 1, 1999, the start of federal fiscal year 2000. State agencies will be watching closely to ensure that fund transfers run smoothly between federal and state accounts.

Additionally, because 2000 is a leap year, some wonder if state computer systems will recognize the date of February 29 and continue to function in a year with 366 days.

Skeptics point out that the last leap year (1996) saw no widespread computer havoc and say that the ease of transition into fiscal year 2000 should assuage most fears.

Nonetheless, as Heiman of Kansas points out, Y2K preparedness actually encompasses a string of test dates for state computer technicians, and the only real way to gauge success is to wait for the calendar to turn.