Majority Of States Have Finished Most Y2K Preparations

When Wisconsin residents awaken on January 1, 2000, they won't have to wonder if the millennium bug is wreaking havoc in the Badger State, Gov. Tommy G. Thompson said this week. He's totally confident state government computers will be able to read 01/01/00 without shutting down.

"Test after test, system after system shows that the state of Wisconsin should ring in the 21st century with celebration," Thompson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We want everyone to celebrate without any worries whatsoever."

The mood about Y2K is undoubtedly less sanguine in Alabama, which has a lower Y2K compliance rate on its "mission-critical" computers than any other state. It reported only 42 percent of its mission-critical computers to be Y2K-compliant this month, according to the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE). That compares with 30 percent in May.

With the new millennium less than four months away, most states appear to be on top of the Y2K issue, a few are lagging and others are at varying degrees in between.

Three states -- North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa -- join Wisconsin in being 100 percent compliant with their Y2K preparations, NASIRE says.

A surprisingly large number report compliance rates of 90 percent or higher. They are Arkansas (91%), Florida (99%), Illinois (92%), Indiana (97%), Kansas (94%), Kentucky (98%), Maine (93%), Maryland (93%), Massachusetts (93%), Michigan (99%), Minnesota (97%), Mississippi (90%), Missouri (91%), New Jersey (97), ,New York (98%0, North Carolina (91%), Pennsylvania (98%), Rhode Island (90%), South Carolina (93%), South Dakota (99%), Texas (97%), Vermont (90%), Virginia (98%), Washington (98%) and West Virginia (90%).

On the low end of the spectrum are New Hampshire (61%) and New Mexico (57%). Georgia chose not to fill in its compliance percentage.

Texans may live in a state that's in the 90th percentile bracket, but they're leaving nothing to chance -- gun sales are up around the state, partially in anticipation of Y2K-related problems, the Dallas Morning News says.

To assure their computer systems are Y2K-ready on New Year's Day, the 43 states that reported their Y2K expenditures to NASIRE are spending a combined total of $3 billion. California's $317 million tab topped the list, while South Dakota is handling its Y2K preparations for $5 million, the least expensive fix among the 43 states.

Nationwide, California and Pennsylvania have distinguished themselves when it comes to getting their computer systems Y2K-ready, Wall Street Journal reporter John Fialka says. Both states "are kind of the leaders in terms of preparation, in terms of getting into it early and earnestly and also in terms of getting their counties ready."

That last piece is crucial because most states process the data for disability programs, but let the county where the recipient lives print his or her disability checks. Fialka says.

California and Pennsylvania also shine "in terms of cracking the whip and setting deadlines and getting enough clout from the governor to make them stick," Fialka says.

Most people look to Jan. 1, but the first major Y2K test for state computers actually occurred on July 1. That's when computer systems had to start operating on the new fiscal year. Forty-six states handled that milestone without difficulty.

New York may have difficulty passing state budgets, but its computers had no problem with the beginning of the state's fiscal year, which came on April 1. Likewise, Texas easily made the fiscal transition on Sept. 1, and Alabama and Michigan begin their new fiscal years on Oct. 1.

Another hurdle for state computers came and passed uneventfully on Sept. 9. Some computer experts thought many computers would confuse 9/9/99 with "9999," computer code indicating that a program has finished its operations and needs to shut down.

Despite being viewed as a dress rehearsal for Jan. 1, 2000, Sept. 9, 1999 spawned no reports of cataclysmic crashes that hamstrung essential state operations.

"We didn't anticipate any problems and we haven't experienced any," South Dakota's chief information officer, Otto Doll, said. "We've checked and corrected 99.2 percent of all the state's computer systems for the date change at the end of the year, and this was part of our remediation program all along."

In some states, the top information officials are preaching the gospel of having computers ready for 2000, but can't seem to make believers of state agencies and offices. That's the case in New Hampshire, where the Governor's Office of Emergency Management received a D on a state report card.

On the other hand, New Hampshire's state police aircraft zoomed from an F when an assessment was done in March, to an A- this month, the Associated Press reports. And the state's 911 system improved from a C grade to an A-.

Colorado Y2K officials expressed annoyance with some state agencies over embedded chips that haven't been updated for 2000. The chips aren't just in computers, but in machinery ranging from elevator systems to cars.

The person heading Colorado's Y2K program, Brian Mouty, says he detects a sense of complacency in some state agencies. "I do have a good idea there are some areas within departments that I do not feel comfortable with, and that's where I need to spend and focus my time," Mouty told the Rocky Mountain News .

Louisiana, which has a lot of refineries and petrochemical businesses, was concerned that state agencies that have to deal with chemical spills might not be Y2K-compliant. In an exercise hosted by Dow Chemical, Louisiana simulated a chemical spill during a loss of electricity and phone service, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate .

The exercise uncovered minor shortcomings in state computer operations, but no glaring problems, according to officials. Overall, mission-critical computers in Louisiana are 89 percent compliant, according to NASIRE.

Maine says its critical computers are ready to roll in 2000, but is printing post-Jan. 1 paychecks for state workers to make sure state employees get paid, just in case.

One Mississippi official has proposed that his state designate Monday, January 3, 2000 as a holiday, to usher the state's computer systems into the next millennium. State Auditor Phil Bryant ran the idea past Gov. Kirk Fordice, who is reviewing it, according to Biloxi Sun Herald .

When it comes to fielding Y2K-related lawsuits, California is far and away the leading state, Manhattan attorney David Bender says. Most are class actions filed against software manufacturers producing a popular, older program the companies will make Y2K ready for an upgrade fee.

Consumers have sued, rather than pay for upgrades they believe should be performed free of charge. Most of the defendant software companies in California settle by giving customers $40 to $50 to upgrade their programs.

Bender says he isn't seeing millennium-bug legal actions against individual states yet, but is starting to see lawsuits where corporations are suing their insurers to recoup Y2K remediation expenses. He singled out a $400-million California suit recently filed by GTE against several of its insurers.