Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

IRS Faces Major Technology Projects, Staff Shortage Next Year

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

IRS Faces Major Technology Projects, Staff Shortage Next Year

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Computer geeks at the IRS had better stock up on a lot of colas, cookies and potato chips, because they can expect to put in marathon hours in the coming year as they deal with a technological triple whammy in the coming year.

First, the so-called Year 2000 problem: At the Internal Revenue Service, that involves scouring 62 million lines of computer code to ensure computers don't crash at the next millennium.

The estimated cost is $900 million, second to the Defense Department as the costliest Year 2000 fix in government. In addition, the IRS faces a huge job reprogramming its computers to reflect major tax code changes from the 1997 Taxpayer Relief Act. And the agency still must pick a private contractor for modernizing its far-flung computer system, perhaps history's biggest computer upgrade. Just one part of this 15-year project's first phase is expected to cost $639 million. With all this work ahead, the IRS faces the unwelcome headache of keeping its computer programmers from jumping ship to more lucrative jobs in private enterprise. "The concern is as we go along we will run up against a logistic logjam of trying to convert so many pieces at once," said John Yost, IRS Year 2000 project director. At the same time, Yost said he's concerned the IRS could "run out of people to do the job." "One of our problems now is competing to hold on to the people that we have," said Yost. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the IRS lost 8 percent to 9 percent of its computer programming staff, he said. That attrition rate may be comparable to private industry's but is 35 percent higher than the departure rate for computer specialists government-wide, according to the Office of Personnel Management. The Year 2000 problem evolves from the programming of many old computers to recognize dates in two-digit formats -- "97" would represent 1997 -- and the fear that if unrepaired, they will run awry after the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31, 1999. They would consider the year designated 2000 as 1900. The Office of Management and Budget estimates a $3.9 billion price tag to avert widespread government computer crashes from what's being called the "millennium crisis. …

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