The Record - March 1998

NARA Races to Beat Millennium Computer Problems

As the year 2000 approaches, government- wide efforts to address the potential failure of computer systems due to the millennium change have increased. Why is this a problem? The year 2000 problem is rooted in the way dates are recorded in many computer systems. For decades, to conserve electronic data storage space, computer systems have typically used two digits to represent the year. With this two-digit format, however, the year 2000 is indistinguishable from the year 1900. As a result, computer programs that use dates to perform calculations, comparisons, or sorting may generate incorrect results when working with years after 1999.

What's the solution for NARA? Archivist John Carlin has asked Sam Watkins of the Information Technology Services Division of NARA to lead the agency's year 2000 initiative. NARA will start with a comprehensive assessment of existing information systems, particularly those which are mission critical. The Information Technology Services Division has completed a preliminary analysis and has hired a contractor, CACI, with experience working on year 2000 issues to help NARA resolve its problem. After the problem is defined, the agency will implement its system conversion strategies and management plan.