WASHINGTON – Maryland officials defended themselves Wednesday against claims by a top U.S. Agriculture Department official that the state’s Child Nutrition Program would not be Y2K compliant until December – two months later than any other state.
Shirley Watkins, under secretary of agriculture for food, nutrition and consumer services, told two congressional committees that she was “particularly concerned” about Maryland’s progress.
Watkins stressed that the state’s apparent tardiness in addressing the Year 2000 bug in its computer programs for the child nutrition program “is not going to impact the feeding of children in Maryland.” Under the program, schools provide discounted food for students and are reimbursed every month by the federal government.
But Maryland Department of Education officials insisted that the program will be Y2K compliant by the end of this month. Assistant State Superintendent Ron Peiffer said he was “100 percent sure that everything will be taken care of by the end of the month.”
State officials said Watkins misunderstood the situation.
The state has been redeveloping its child nutrition program since April 1997 to make reimbursement more efficient, and is expected to be done by December, said Will Morrow, chief of the information technology branch with state schools. But Y2K is only a part of that reprogramming, he said.
“The entire project may not be completed until December, but critical Y2K compliance will be achieved by the end of the month,” said Morrow. “Those programs don’t need to be finished to be Y2K compliant.”
Peiffer said the state Education Department has been working on Y2K compliance since before February 1998, and Morrow said the department has spent about $1.9 million on it.
Watkins said she was going by information the states provide to the Agriculture Department each month on their millenium bug compliance. She said Maryland’s indicated in its September report that it would be ready by December.
“If Maryland’s information is inaccurate, then they will be able to provide updated information at the end of October,” she said.
“We’d be thrilled to death” to learn Maryland will be finished preparations sooner, Watkins said after her testimony Wednesday before technology subcommittees of the House Committee on Government Reform and the Committee on Science.
But her testimony caught the attention of Reps. Constance A. Morella, R-Bethesda, and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, who were at the hearing.
“I have always felt that we (Maryland) were very progressive when it came to the remediation of the Y2K situation,” Morella said. She said she intends to send a letter to Gov. Parris Glendening, in an effort to raise awareness around the state about Y2K.
Watkins did praise the state for having a definite contingency plan, should the Y2K bug bite. Morrow said that plan calls for manual filing of reimbursement claims, which he said would slow down the process but would not result in significant delays.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Maryland will be ready for 2000. Maryland has ensured they will be prepared,” said Watkins, stressing that there was “no finger-pointing” intended in her remarks.
Morrow agreed the state will be prepared — and sooner than Watkins thinks.
“If the year 2000 were tomorrow, we would not be ready,” he said. “But we’ll be ready come November 1st.”