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Capital Poorly Prepared For Year 2000

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite the best efforts of Congress and the White House to raise awareness of the Year 2000 computer problem, the nation's capital provides a prime example of what can go wrong come year end.

The District of Columbia is over a year behind generally accepted schedules for addressing the problem, and Mayor Anthony Williams agreed at a hearing Friday that the city was behind almost every similar-sized municipality.

The General Accounting Office said it would be difficult for the District to compensate for its late start.

``The District may be unable to effectively ensure public safety, collect revenue, educate students, and provide health care services,'' GAO information system director Jack Brock told the House Government Reform subcommittee on D.C.

Williams tried to assure the committee that his administration was hard at work on the problem.

``Yes, we started late and we are still behind where we should be, but we are working at an aggressive and accelerated rate so that we will finish in the prescribed time,'' he said in prepared remarks.

Of 336 systems, 84 were Year 2000 ready, 117 required fixing, and 135 were already renovated and were awaiting testing, Williams said.

The Year 2000 computer problem arises because older computers and their software usually allocated only two digits to the year in dates. When the new year arrives, these computers may just shut down or read the date as 1900.

Tom Davis, the Virginia Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said problems in the District could hurt neighboring states like his own, and disrupt the federal government. ``The District remains in crisis mode.''

D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said local Year 2000 efforts were now focusing on services where disruption could not be tolerated, including police, fire, emergency medical services, water and sewerage operations.