Where’s Al? The Veep Is Missing in Action on the ‘Y2K’ Crisis

(Washington, D.C.): Public awareness is inexorably growing about the magnitude of the
danger
posed to the U.S. economy, national security and perhaps social order by the looming computer
meltdown known alternatively as the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem or the
“Millennium Bug.” For
example, in recent days, the Y2K issue has featured prominently in Newsweek
Magazine and on
the front-page of the Washington Post. The U.S. Senate has felt sufficiently
concerned to take
the extraordinary step of establishing a Special Committee to provide oversight in this area.
Curiously missing in all of this, however, is one man: Vice President Al Gore.

What makes Mr. Gore’s absence curious is not just his determination — as the 2000 campaign
for
the Presidency gets underway — to associate himself with every cause, no matter how trivial, that
demonstrates his indispensability and leadership (or at least offers the prospect of publicity).
More extraordinary, still, is the fact that the Vice President has made his technology
matters
generally and computer technology in particular his personal responsibility within the
Clinton Administration.

Recall, that it has been Al Gore who has assiduously touted the power of the
Internet and who
has, most recently championed the development of the Net’s second generation. It has been
Al
Gore
who wants to hardwire every library, put computers in every classroom and otherwise
assure equal opportunity access to the Internet. It has been Al Gore who has cast
himself as a
prime-mover behind the improved use of computer technologies to reinvent government, making
it more efficient and productive, while (purportedly) shrinking its size and costs.

How could it be, therefore, that the Administration’s self-appointed
Computer-Nerd-in-Chief is nowhere to be seen on what is, indisputably, the biggest information
technology
challenge of the 20th Century and the problem that threatens to blow up, at
least temporarily,
the bridge to the 21st
?
Three possible explanations come to mind:

On His Watch

The first possible explanation for the Veep’s invisibility on the Y2K problem is that
the United
States finds itself in this mess in no small measure because of an absence of leadership on
his part over the past five years.
A computer glitch that requires history’s most massive
software maintenance effort (assessment, reprogramming and testing) and hardware replacement
(involving potentially billions of non-Y2K compliant “imbedded” microprocessors and
chips)
initiative would have been a relatively minor problem in 1993 or 1994
or 1995.
Now, with
roughly 600 days left before 1 January 2000, it is a literally insurmountable
one
.

Worse yet, as Jim Lord — a respected author and newsletter-publisher on
the Millennium Bug —
has pointed out, we do not even have until the Year 2000 before the effects of the Y2K
crisis
will begin to become evident.
Consider the following: On 1 February 1999, major
American
companies will begin their Fiscal Years 2000. New York State will do so on 1
April. 46 other
states will enter theirs on 1 July. And, of course, the federal government will begin FY00 on 1
October 1999.

While this change of date will not trigger the Y2K problem for imbedded processors and
calendar
date-sensitive data, it can precipitate disruptions involving untold millions of lines of code and
related financial transactions. And, if historical experience is any guide, every 100 lines
of code
manually “corrected” will introduce seven new errors.
Time compression
and programmer
overload may make the actual human error rate far higher in this period. The result could be
cascading crises in the U.S. economy, with ripple effects for both the government and private
sectors — and every American.

Al Gore: Luddite

All too evident in Al Gore’s tendentious 1992 tome, Earth in the Balance, is a
recurrent theme:
Advanced technology is an enemy of the planet, not its friend — a remarkable
stance for
someone who professes to be a champion of such technology. According to Mr. Gore’s ideology,
though, the environment must be spared technologies’ deleterious effects at all costs, and,
wherever necessary, the United States must take the lead in bearing those costs.

This sentiment — which the Vice President shares with Luddites in the environmental,
anti-nuclear
and arms control movements — clearly animates the Kyoto Protocol on the Global Climate
Change, a treaty made possible by Al Gore’s personal intervention and diktat. href=”#N_1_”>(1) It also is
responsible for engendering many of the concerns being expressed by those in Congress and the
electorate about that Protocol’s likely adverse effect on U.S. economic growth and quality of life.

The Kyoto treaty’s impact, however, will almost certainly pale by comparison with
that of
the Millennium Bug.
This will be particularly true if, for example, as a result of
anticipated
concerns about safety, the Nation’s nuclear reactors are taken off-line before the Century changes.
The U.S. power grid could, as a result, be denied some 20 percent of its electricity — as much as
40% on the East Coast. This could be disastrous in the coldest months of the year, even if
the
rest of the grid’s electrical supplies
(generated by oil-fired, hydrothermal, solar or
wind-powered
systems) are not disrupted. Unfortunately, Y2K experts warn that such disruptions
should, in
fact, be anticipated. Could Al Gore actually believe this would be good for the
environment,
and therefore for the rest of us?

An Election Year Gambit

The most insidious explanation — but perhaps the most likely — for why Mr. Gore
and, for that
matter, the rest of the Clinton Administration are not grappling with the Y2K crisis even
now is that they don’t want to burst the bubble of economic good-feeling that may help the
Vice President’s party (and his future electoral base) in the 1998 elections.
Maybe the
Veep
is calculating that he can start talking about the coming potential catastrophe after 3
November
;
after all, there will still be another thirteen months before H-Hour, plenty of time to demonstrate
long-deferred leadership.

Such a view is wrong, dead wrong. Even if the witching-hour
were midnight on 1 January
2000, there is already too little time to take the sort of wholesale corrective action so clearly
needed. Computer experts emphasize that fully 50% of the task involved in making computer
systems Y2K-compliant is the testing phase. It will take months, if not more than a
year
, fully to
validate the “fixes” made to complex computer systems so as to ensure that they — and the
computers with which they share data — are actually Millennium-compliant.

Naturally, if it turns out that early- or mid-1999 is when Y2K meltdowns begin to
occur, the
Clinton-Gore Administration’s deliberate down-playing of the problem href=”#N_2_”>(2) for the next six-months will greatly compound its
malfeasance in this area over the previous sixty-four
months.
As Y2K authority Jim Lord has observed, every passing day in which the U.S.
government fails to warn the public about the threat posed by the Millennium Bug — to say
nothing of, by its example of fecklessness and inactivity, discouraging the private sector from
taking needed corrective actions — thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses in this
country are going to be seriously (and perhaps fatally) affected.

The Bottom Line

It is now too late to avoid altogether the myriad, damaging effects of the Millennium Bug on
the
United States, its people and its interests. All that can realistically be hoped for now is
that a
form of triage
can be effected so as to reduce somewhat the possibly apocalyptic effects
that will
otherwise be experienced. Damage-limitation will require both corrective actions where they can
still be taken (i.e., with respect to priority systems associated with national security, public safety
and critical national infrastructure) and rigorous contingency planning for coping with the
consequences of having not adopted those and other measures earlier on. Even this program will
require Manhattan Project level priority and resources. href=”#N_3_”>(3)

The only hope, in turn, that such a damage-limitation strategy will be implemented is
that
the Nation’s top leaders, starting with the President and Vice President, make clear at once
the peril looming before us.
Anything less than the most vigorous, consistent and
convincing
use of the bully pulpit entrusted to them in the all-too-few months remaining will add
exponentially to the substantial responsibility Mr. Gore and his colleagues will bear for this utterly
avoidable computer-driven catastrophe.

– 30 –

1. See Center Asks: Are White House Climate
Change Extravaganzas Meant to Facilitate
Informed Debate — Or Just the Party Line?
( href=”index.jsp?section=papers&code=97-D_146″>No. 97-D 146, 30 September 1997), Watch
Your
Wallet: Al Gore’s ‘Flexibility’ Bodes Ill for U.S. Interests at Kyoto — And Beyond

(No. 97-C
189
, 8 December 1997) and Is the Administration Lying to the Senate About
Kyoto’s Adverse
Impact on National Security — Or Just Kidding Itself?
( href=”index.jsp?section=papers&code=98-C_70″>No. 98-C 70, 23 April 1998).

2. For example, the Clinton Administration’s newly appointed Y2K
Czar John Koskenin persists
in declaring that the federal government’s critical computer systems will be Y2K-compliant in
time. This is to put it, bluntly, a lie.

3. See previous Casey Institute products on the Y2K problem:
Bridge to Nowhere: Inattention
to the ‘Millennium Bug’ Threatens the Nation’s Security, Economy in the 21st
Century
(No.
98-C 24
, 6 February 1998) and Will Clinton-Gore Prevent the ‘Millennium
Bug’ From Driving
Us Off the Bridge to the 21st Century?
(No. 98-R
55
, 30 March 1998).

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