The U.S. Admits to Digital Delinquency

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It came as no suprise that the government would miss its self-imposed March 31 deadline for Y2K compliance. Like a child badly in need of a parent-teacher conference, the government has problems meeting deadlines. The Y2K status report announcement, made late Wednesday by the White House Office of Management and Budget, was succinct. Three federal agencies -- the Transportation Department, Health and Human Services, and the Agency for International Development -- have made little or no progress in winnowing out the Y2K bug. Only 80 percent of key government computers have been given a clean bill of health. The cost for ensuring that the government gets in line digitally by 2000 has been nudged upward by $400 million, to a grand total of $6.8 billion. No catastrophes are expected.

"The private sector has all the incentive to get the job done right, but the government has none of those incentives. Bureaucrats get paid whether the government works or not, " says TIME assistant managing editor Philip Elmer-DeWitt. Nor is the government so red-faced with shame over its Y2K slip-up that it has resolved to turn over a new leaf -- or even name another self-imposed deadline. Still, don't let visions of muddled air traffic controllers dampen your New Year 2000 celebration plans yet. Cars will still run on highways, and planes -- knock on wood -- will still take off, albeit with delays. Says Elmer-DeWitt: "The good news is that the country seems to work whether or not the government does."  The feds can only hope so.