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2000 Poses No Future Shock
With OIRM Plan, Computers
Can Count Down with Confidence

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...
Can your computer accurately distinguish between the years 1900 and 2000 when it sees a date like 01/01/00? If not, your information may be processed incorrectly. "00" dates are already beginning to show up as people ask their computers for 3-year projections on contracts, budgets and depreciation.

Online banking, payroll checks and calculations based on birth date, like retirement or Social Security benefits, can be affected by what is widely known as the "Year 2000 Problem." Every business, organization and institution is, or should be, casting about for solutions. But don't you worry -- the Office of Information Resources Management, which is handling the NIH response, is ahead of the game.

The Sky Is Not Falling at NIH

As might be expected, the year 2000 problem is being cursed as everything from an impending disaster of monumental proportions to a ticking time bomb. Without question, it will be a most expensive and inconvenient computer bug. Businesses that can correct faulty year 2000 programming and help avert catastrophe are already raking in the money.

NIH, however, has been preparing for this since about 1991, and OIRM officials are relying on more than an ounce of prevention. According to its "Y2K" management plan, the problem "is neither a crisis waiting to happen nor a situation with easy fixes."

Explains Jaren Doherty, director of OIRM's Division of Security Standards, Policy, and Planning, "It's not technically difficult to correct noncompliant computers. We're looking at it as an NIH-wide management issue due to the interconnections between computer systems via networks. We simply want employees to be aware of the possibilities and of the resources we have put in place to help with solutions."

Under the leadership of Tony Itteilag, NIH's interim chief information officer, and Dona Lenkin, acting director, OIRM, a five-phase strategy has been developed for seeing the agency safely through and beyond New Year's Day 2000. The first phase is awareness -- communicating with employees, followed in due time by phases 2 through 5: assessment -- determining which hardware and software are affected; renovation -- fixing or replacing the affected ones; validation -- putting the fixes to the test; and finally by Dec. 31, 1998, implementation -- using the reprogrammed resources. Representatives from each ICD comprise a Y2K work group; members are available to answer individual questions about personal workstations and networks. In addition, a special Web site ( on OIRM's home page has been activated to give status reports and other information on the project.

Microchips Off an Old Block

To many folks, Y2K may appear to be a tremendous oversight. How could the computer industry not have foreseen such a universal programming gaffe? A short history lesson puts it in perspective. Way (way!) back when every byte of computer storage was precious, a space-saving programming trick -- dropping the first two numbers of the date, abbreviating, say, the year 1951 to "51" -- was used. With computer advances occurring at the speed of light, who would have thought the same basic practice would be in use nearly 50 years later?

Since the olden days, computers have progressed to much faster and higher capacity magnetic media -- no longer is there a need to conserve field space. Left most vulnerable are large scale systems with older applications and DOS-based machines of the 486 ilk and older; the majority of Macintosh computers will not need conversion. Indeed, many nineties generation machines already use 4-digit date technology, but many -- those equipped with older microchips, but still among retail stock -- do not. The Y2K challenge is to upgrade computers with old microchip technology and old applications -- called "legacy systems" -- in time to avoid a crisis.

Let the Buyer Beware

Doherty recommends employees do a couple of things to safeguard their computer resources and information. The first is become acquainted with your individual ICD work group representative (see sidebar). If you have concerns about a particular device's Y2K compliance status, don't try to test it yourself -- you could wreak havoc with your data, or your network connections. Instead, notify your ICD rep, who'll know whom to contact for testing, and subsequent followup, if needed.

Also, if a computer purchase is imminent for your organization, make sure all new merchandise -- not only computer hardware and software, but also printers, fax machines, certain cameras, automatic animal feeders and any other equipment that uses microchips to process dates -- and their warranties are compliant. Specific language and guidelines for federal computers and contracts can be found online at the OIRM Web site above.

Party Like It's 1999

Finally, Doherty advises, keep informed, but relax. Neither NIH nor any other organization of comparable size and complexity is going to be ready for 2000 overnight. "It is OIRM's intention to coordinate the ICD work group and share information on this issue through every phase. The work group will help each ICD identify and correct possible problems. Our strategy is to prevent year 2000 problems before they can harm the NIH mission."

Year 2000 Work Group On the Job

The following employees serve on NIH's year 2000 work group and are available to answer questions on testing and upgrading workstations and other electronic devices.

ICD Contact Phone

CC Warren Moyer 6-5176
DRG Jan Levy 5-0920
DCRT J. Cliff Smyers 6-7346
DCRT Rick Duhn 2-1431
DCRT Jeff Schriver 6-5693
FIC Julie Burke 6-4625
NCI Betty Ann Sullivan 6-1038
NCRR Ron Edwards 6-4501
NEI Carolyn Bealle 6-2194
NHGRI Carol Martin 2-5348
NHLBI Ralph Van Wey 5-0116
NIA Maria Siegert 2-2714
NIAAA Susan Teper 3-1300
NIAID David Wise 6-6490
NIAMS Brenda Vanags 6-0799
NICHD Lynda Bennett 2-1978
NIDA Connie Latzko 3-6910
NIDCD Brenda Grimes 2-1128
NIDDK Anne Robertson 6-9579
NIDR Thomas Murphy 4-1259
NIEHS Robert Hoppin 919/541-5786
NIGMS Thomas Mitchell 4-2680
NIMH Dawn Farr 3-4535
NINDS Gahan Breithaupt 6-9244
NINR Nancy Chamberlin 2-1446
NLM Bob Kicklighter 2-1697
OIT/OD David Wiszneauckas 2-0706
ORS Linda Alger 6-1004
ORS Richard Charles 2-3332
OIRM/OD Jaren Doherty (Chairperson) 2-4445
OIRM/OD Marilyn Allen (Staff Support) 2-4452

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