- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2000

Corporations and government agencies have begun disbanding their year-2000 operations after spending an estimated $200 billion to fix the computer glitch.
"I think we are out of the woods," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation," a day after the prophecies of a disaster caused by the so-called "Y2K" bug turned out to be wrong.
"The $200 billion that the world spent on this was worth it," Mr. Richardson said. "In this case fizzle is good dull is good."
The good news prompted officials at the federal government's $50 million year-2000 command center to consider ending 24-hour operations as early as tomorrow. They had planned to work round-the-clock through Friday.
In Tennessee, Bradley Dugger, head of the state's computer systems, sent some staff home. "There is no reason to make them sit there doing nothing," he said.
While small glitches in some countries have been reported, there was nothing resembling the catastrophe predicted by those who said the bug caused when date codes on old computer software rolled over from "99" and read the year "00" as "1900" would shut down everything from power grids to bank automated teller machines.
Whether the year-2000 hype was overblown or whether the response to a real problem was successful, the crisis seems to be past.
"I hope I'll be out of work very soon," said John Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on Y2K. "It's been a great success story thus far."
Appearing yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Koskinen said that he expected no problems when financial markets open today. Financial firms "have been at the head of the parade" in fixing their computer problems, he said, "and we have no expectations of any serious problems either in the banking or in the finance industry."
The State Department reported no problems in New Zealand, where companies opened for business 18 hours ahead of Washington.
With the fear of a shutdown gone, the Canadian government yesterday canceled its planned briefings on the computer bug, and Britain's Government Millennium Center planned to trim its 40-member staff to 15 by today.
"We will continue to monitor around the world," Mr. Koskinen said. "We're seeing some small glitches being reported in some countries nothing serious, nothing permanent."
One minor glitch was comical. A customer returned a tape Saturday at a video store in a suburb of Albany, N.Y., and learned that according to the store's computer the tape was 100 years late and he owed $91,250 in late fees. The problem was solved when the owner recalculated the fee using a ballpoint pen.
Another glitch was more serious, involving a computer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee. The exact nature of the malfunction was not disclosed because the computer controls a classified function, but it was corrected in about three hours, a spokesman for the Department of Energy said.
The U.S. government had spent $8.5 billion to deal with its own year-2000 computer problems, Mr. Koskinen said at an afternoon press conference yesterday. Earlier, he had said "nobody knows for sure" how much was spent by governments and private companies worldwide.
"We know with reasonable certainty, we've spent about $100 billion in the United States very well spent, it turns out," he said on NBC. "We think the rest of the world has probably spent another hundred [billion dollars] to $150 billion also what appears to be pretty well spent."
Mr. Koskinen said there may be some problems Feb. 29 if computer programs fail to recognize that 2000 is a leap year, but that other than that he expects the government crisis team to "fold up our tents" tomorrow or Wednesday.
Microsoft chief Bill Gates told CNN's Larry King that "there will be a lot of snafus" appearing in computer systems for some time, although these would not be "catastrophic."
"In the coming months ahead, you're going to hear about billing systems, tax-related software," Mr. Gates said in the Saturday interview.
Mr. Richardson said U.S. officials were "positively surprised" that the computers in Russia's nuclear reactors easily made the transition to 2000.
"The 29 Russian nuclear reactors successfully rolled over," the energy secretary said on CBS. "We were surprised, but it was a good transition. In addition, in the Ukraine there was successful rollover there too."
Mr. Koskinen said all the effort and worry was worthwhile.
"The fact that in the United States we have not seen any significant difficulties is not an indication that there was not a problem underlying all of this," he said. "The financial institutions and the telecommunications companies are clear that if the work had not been done, their systems would simply have not functioned."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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