No US Y2K hoarding seen - White House Aide

By Reuters
Washington, 31 Dec 1999

Americans show no signs of hoarding cash, food or other supplies one day before the technology-challenging Year 2000 dawns, President Clinton`s top Y2K aide said Thursday.

"As a general matter, there are no reports of any changes of any significance in consumer buying habits in either food, pharmaceuticals, or gasoline at this stage,`` the Y2K troubleshooter, John Koskinen, told reporters.

Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged Thursday that it had wrapped up an 11th hour upgrade to air-traffic-control computers to head off a possible Y2K glitch.

It could have caused controllers` screens to show aircraft positions up to 10 seconds late if two related systems failed during the transition from 1999 to 2000.

Koskinen, who is managing a $50 million White House command centre tracking Y2K`s impact, said he had received no reports of "any noticeable increase in (cash) withdrawals."

On the other hand, visits to an official government Y2K Web site have increased 25-fold since last month, to about 150,000 "hits" a day, he said.

Earlier, Transportation Secretary said the travelling public could expect the transportation system to be as safe and efficient after the date change as it is now.

Still, some traffic lights and other systems could fail this weekend despite a $400 million federal government drive to combat the Y2K bug in transport networks, he said.

"I want to emphasise that not every transportation system in the nation has been fixed, and that even some of those that have been fixed and tested may still experience breakdowns or glitches," Transpiration Secretary Rodney Slater said.

"But we are prepared to meet those challenges ... with contingency plans" involving working with local authorities, he told a news briefing.

Slater said his department had completed a $400 million, four-year effort to prepare all of its 609 "mission critical" systems and those that manage aircraft and shipping traffic.

Asked to specify what type of systems he considered still potentially vulnerable to the Y2K glitch, Slater cited only traffic lights as an example.

"If we have any concerns, it is probably as it relates to the smaller systems, again, because of the resources that they were able to devote to the effort," he said.

On a typical day, fewer than 1% of the nation`s traffic signals normally malfunction.

Jane Garvey, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration, confirmed that her agency, as late as this morning, had completed a Y2K software upgrade to prevent a glitch that might have shown controllers 10-second-old aircraft positions.

"They are up and running now, continuously and safely, and they will make a smooth transition tomorrow evening," she said.

Garvey said the belatedly repaired glitch had been a "very, very minor issue." But the union representing technicians that fix the air traffic control system equipment -- and which is in contract negotiations with the FAA -- said the agency had scrambled to fix the system while maintaining a public facade that everything was under control.

Garvey herself was to fly cross-country on New Year`s Eve. Her plane will be at cruising altitude at 7 P.M. Eastern Time (midnight Greenwich Mean Time or universal coordinated time), the stroke of midnight for air traffic control systems.

Normally, about 5,000 to 7,000 military and civilian aircraft are flying at that time on a Friday, Garvey said, adding that she expected New Year`s Eve air traffic to be "reduced considerably" this year, partly because "it is a low demand day to begin with."

She cited one FAA estimate that the reduction in air traffic may be as much as 20% to 25%.

The FAA certified all its equipment was ready at the end of June but precautionary testing has continued to make sure computers can distinguish 2000 from 1900.

The Y2K bug stems from mainly older computer systems which were programmed to read only the last two digits of a year. If the glitch is left uncorrected, systems could misread 2000 as 1900, causing systems to malfunction or even crash.

During the weekend, Transportation Department inspectors will be based at each of the dispatch centres for the 10 major US air carriers, as well as that command centres of the major freight railroads, Amtrak and the New York commuter railroads.

As a Y2K precaution, at least two freight railroads plan to stop their trains before midnight Friday and take the rest of the weekend to bring their systems back up to full operation, Deputy Transpiration Secretary Mort Downey said.


Reuters News Service

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