Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, says he's chagrined that not even the Senate itself has been listening to his constant warnings about the upcoming "year 2000 problem."
He says the Senate reported to him that only 63 of its 8,600 computers are currently equipped to handle the potential bug."That surprised me. I thought that we, at least, would be further along than that," he said.
Bennett for about a year has been dragging in other government agencies and private business groups before a banking subcommittee that he chairs to report their efforts to overcome the problem. He has often criticized their slow movement.
But he also heads another subcommittee that oversees appropriations that Congress gives itself, which makes him an overseer of the Senate's own "year 2000 problem" efforts - and wasn't happy to find it has moved slowly, too.
"I think we'll be all right, though," he said. "They are working on getting upgrades or outright replacements. . . . It will be very embarrassing if we don't fix it, especially because I'm in charge of the committee that oversees that."
The "year 2000 problem" comes because many computer programs were designed to store only two digits of the four-digit year. The century portion is assumed to be 19. So when the year 2000 comes, the 00 will be interpreted as 1900, not 2000.
That may make computers crash. Or they may continue to operate but miscalculate interest because of wrong dates, lose stock trades, fail to issue paychecks, overdraw accounts and foul up myriad other transactions.
Bennett said he is finding that even many newer systems that people assume are year 2000 compliant are not - which is causing many of the problems.
"For example, many assume that Windows '95 would be year 2000 compliant - it's not," Bennett said. "Many assume that if their laptop is less than 5 years old that it is compliant, but many are not."
He added that a man even told him that he called the maker of his father's heart pacemaker to see if it is year 2000 compliant, and was surprised at its answer.
"They said, `We don't know. Nobody's ever asked us that before,' " Bennett said.
He added that after some research, the company reported that the pacemaker itself was compliant - but that the machine in his doctor's office that broadcasts signals to help regulate it is not, so year 2000 problems are still possible.