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Y2K: A Real GSA Project, Not Just the Flavor of the Month

GSA #9629

January 4, 2000
Contact: Bill Bearden (202) 501-1231

WASHINGTON, D.C. --Since the Y2k rollover at midnight last Friday, the U.S. General Services Administration has had no reported problems in its local and long-distance service and only 13 minor glitches in its 8,300 owned and leased buildings. None resulted in interrupted operations.

The smooth federal government transition, a monumental accomplishment, was no accident. It resulted from methodical, painstaking inspections of thousands of systems in thousands of buildings, starting five years ago.

"Our task was like getting your house ready for a new electrical system, but multiplied exponentially," said Diane Savoy, who headed GSA's Y2K project, which was one of the most intensive agency efforts in its 50-year history.

"In a house, you go over every inch to see what will be affected, to see where there could be electrical fires in the midst of installing the new system, etc.," she said. "Well, that's what we had to do with thousands of federal facilities.

"Another difference between a GSA executive and a homeowner is that, instead of a four-bedroom home for a family of four, we oversee an 8,300-building inventory, and there are more than 14,000 GSA workers delivering our vast services. These buildings include sophisticated and complex telecommunications systems that need to be assessed as well."

There also is an internal information technology infrastructure and an array of systems that had to continue to be fully operational to enable GSA employees to meet the requirements of the other federal agencies, GSA's customers. And Savoy had to devise a way to do the job without becoming mired in multi-layered federal bureaucracy.

"A key element in our successful strategy was having the support of the agency's top managers from start to finish," said Savoy, GSA's assistant chief information officer and 31-year veteran federal government worker. "Throughout the process, I briefed Administrator Dave Barram and Deputy Administer Thurman Davis personally. The total executive management team in the agency was kept apprised of the organization's status. As a result, whenever I needed anything throughout the agency, I got it. All I had to do was pick up the phone and ask. The cooperation was simply tremendous."

"The tremendous teamwork -- communications and information sharing that occurred internally - has been something that we can use as a benchmark, as we prepare to meet the many other challenges that will be facing us in the coming years," Barram said.

Another key element in GSA's successful Y2k strategy was an 81-page, GSA Year 2000 Business Continuity and Contingency Plan. That plan lists each system by name and explains the risk if the system fails on a specific date. It also assesses probability and potential damage to GSA and its federal agency customers and where the risk ranks as an overall GSA business priority; the mitigation strategy, with a completion date, names the event that may trigger implementation of a contingency plan and the person designated to implement it.

Savoy shepherded the GSA Y2K preparedness strategy from birth to maturity in just five years. It all started with former Deputy GSA Chief Information Officer (CIO) Don Venneberg, who attended one of the first Y2K conferences and met a representative from the Social Security Administration, Kathy Adams.

"He came back with, literally, a bag filled with information and said we needed to start working on the problem. He asked me to take charge of the project," Savoy said.

In late 1995, GSA decided on a national strategy. Savoy formed a three-member team from the CIO's staff.

"We knew we needed to work with individuals from all levels of the agency," she said. "We spoke to the commissioners and the staff offices. We contacted, then visited all the regional administrators and asked each one to name a Y2K officer."

GSA Administrator Dave Barram, who had 26 years of experience in the technology field, knew that GSA's business had to be the best possible in order to retain its federal agency customers and that GSA needed a Y2K readiness project.

Barram remained personally involved, along with Deputy Administrator Davis and the commissioners of the agency's buildings, technology and supply services and several regional administrators.

"Everybody stepped up to the plate, assuming responsibility and accountability," Savoy said. "The need to fulfill our customers' expectations, with no technology breakdown in a technology age, lent urgency to the project. We needed to demonstrate that we could meet the Y2K challenge, if we were going to continue to deliver excellent services efficiently, especially now that agencies no longer are required to use our services, which also generate most of our dollars."

Initially, GSA's Y2K teams looked only at computers. Then they branched out to building operations that involved computerized operations for elevators, energy-control systems, telecommunications systems, etc.

"I recognized from the start that I could not do it alone," Savoy said. "I never wanted to be the Y2K Czar, or Czarina. I had to get the cooperation and collaboration of everyone in the agency nationwide -- which includes 11 regional offices and many field offices. I also had to get them to accept accountability along with responsibility.

"We shared responsibilities, making sure the experts assumed accountability along with responsibility. We required each service and region to supply us with monthly reports, including dates, accomplishments and items needed. If we needed further explanation of items in the reports, we asked for and got them."

Not everyone was thrilled with being asked to work across the agency to meet such a huge challenge. But most recognized the need.

"I always said to people that if one individual fails, we all fail," Savoy said. "People realized it was a real project, not just the flavor of the month. The Administrator even personally requested and has a bold Y2K exhibit outside his office. Everyone who goes to see him sees the progress made throughout the agency. Such visibility encourages people to strive to do the job well.

"In less than a year from our start, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) started requiring all federal agencies to submit quarterly Y2K reports to GSA. When OMB asked for quarterly reports from all federal agencies, our folks asked whether they could move to quarterly reports. I said they couldn't. I wanted to see our progress continuously and, if there was a problem or slippage in schedule, I wanted to know what was wrong in a more timely basis rather than have to wait until the end of the quarter. The goal was to get problems identified and corrected early, not to penalize anyone."

In addition to working within the agency, the buildings, technology and supply services also built on existing relationships with business communities.

"We had 1,431 system data exchanges with the private sector," Savoy said. "These exchanges had to be Y2K compliant. A cooperative venture ensured that both GSA and our data exchange partners set as a high priority. Our private sector partners were very cooperative in working with us.

"The only real problem we had along the way was with some of the companies whose attorneys had advised them not to share information that we had requested about the Y2K readiness of their products. They said that if their clients said they were Y2K ready, they would be opening themselves up to lawsuits, if it turned out they weren't. So they were afraid to share information with us. We needed that information because we were using their products. Eventually, Congress passed a law saying that sharing Y2K information would not subject companies to lawsuits. This had a significant, and almost immediate, impact on our receipt of needed information.

"GSA also established relationships with Congress. We wanted them to know and understand what GSA had planned and was accomplishing as a result of our Y2K effort. We periodically briefed them on our building and telecommunications systems efforts, as well as our internal efforts. Having congressional staff more knowledgeable about our plans and accomplishments certainly did not hurt us as they gave report cards assessing Y2K preparedness at each federal agency. Another outcome of this effort was that they referred numerous Y2K contractors to us that we assisted in getting on the appropriate GSA schedule so that they could offer their services government-wide.

"GSA had to succeed. If other agencies succeeded in accomplishing smooth rollovers, and we did not, those agencies still wouldn't be able to operate. Our obligation to the rest of the federal government agencies that we service served as a constant and compelling motivator for our accomplishments and success. We viewed this as a great opportunity agencywide to truly thrill our customers.

"Y2K even became an item of discussion at the presidential level. This resulted in President Clinton's appointment of John Koskinen to represent him in leading the nation's Y2K efforts. The rest is history."

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Last Reviewed 2010-04-30