With less than 500 days left until the turn of the century, the Education Department’s failure to address the Year 2000 computer problem may threaten the delivery of financial aid to college students, according to witnesses at a recent Congressional hearing. The Committee on Oversight and Investigations of the House of Representatives held a hearing on the issue on Sept. 17 in which it outlined progress, heard witness testimony and identified problems. Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), a Congressional leader concerning the Y2K problem, released a quarterly report last week on the status of federal agencies’ progress on the year 2000 issue. The Education Department, among the agencies detailed, received a grade of “F.” “The Education Department disburses student loans and grants to millions of college students each year; if students fail to receive financial assistance checks on time, most of them will be unable to register for classes,” Hoekstra said. Hoekstra noted that only four of the Education Department’s 11 critical financial aid computer programs are Year-2000 compliant. Among these incomplete “mission critical computer programs” are the Pell Grant and Federal Family Education Loan Program systems. “One key factor contributing to this delay was the instability of the department’s Year 2000 project manager position, which suffered continual turnover,” said Joel Willemssen, director of the General Accounting Office’s Office of Information Resources Management. Willemssen discussed testing time and contingency plans as issues which may threaten the ability of financial aid students to receive help from the Education Department after 2000. “[Horn’s report] projects that the Education Department will not be compliant until at least 2030,” Hoekstra said, “Since the millenium cannot be postponed, it appears [that] agencies will need to quicken the pace of their efforts.” According to Hoekstra, the Office of Management and Budget has set a deadline of March, 1999 for all government agencies to attain Year-2000 compliance.

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