From the Front Line: Chicken Little Goes To Washington

Too little too late might describe the Federal government’s recent entry into the Y2K foray.

On April 3, 1998, the Senate finally decided to create a new committee to address potential Y2K technology problems, into which business and commerce factor heavily. Their charter is to study what impact Year 2000 will have upon the Executive and Judicial branches of our government, as well as examine the federal government’s Y2K status in general.

Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) was named chairman of the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem. At the inaugural hearing of the Y2K Committee, Sen. Bennett started his remarks by stating, "I have some disturbing news to report this morning." He went on to say he had ordered a survey of the 10 largest electric, oil and gas utility firms in the United States, inquiring as to their Y2K preparations. Included in the survey findings were the following:

  1. Only 20 percent of the firms had completed an assessment of their automated systems.
  2. NONE of the utilities had been assured by their suppliers and servicers that THEY would be Y2K compliant.
  3. NONE of the firms had completed contingency plans for Y2K eventualities, even though these firms are REQUIRED by their regulators to maintain emergency response plans.

Sen. Bennett noted, "My concern is that they probably don’t know what contingencies to prepare for." Sen. Bennett also stated on June 9 this year, "If Y2K hit tomorrow, there is a 100 percent chance that the [electrical] grid would fail. With 18 months to go, we may be able to get this down to 40 percent."

After reading the entire text of Sen. Bennett’s speech, I started searching for other information relating to the potential consequences of losing our country’s power supply. Another politician, Congresswoman Constance Morella, opening the Congressional Technology Subcommittee’s eighth hearing on the Y2K problem, remarked, "If the power shuts down, the rest of our society will shut down in its wake," and "The Year 2000 problem, if left unaddressed, has the potential to short circuit our nation’s power sources and severely disrupt the delivery of energy to the American public through systematic power failures."

Don McAlvany, editor of The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor – a conservative monthly report which concerns itself with global economic, monetary and geopolitical trends – has devoted many of his recent writings to the Y2K problem. In his August newsletter, he observed, "There are over 7,800 power companies in the U.S. As of August 1998, NOT ONE is certified to be [Y2K] compliant. Over 40 percent of U.S. power plants are coal-fired. They depend on railroad shipments of coal, and there are no compliant railroads in America."

Just two months ago, well-known Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) stated, "We’re no longer at the point of asking whether or not there will be any power disruptions, but we are now forced to ask how severe the disruptions are going to be."

Of course not all politicians agree with Sen. Bennett. Former Vice President Dan Quayle, in a speech at Rutgers University, stated that the anxiety over Y2K was "no big deal." He went on to say, "Whenever someone brings up the possibility of our entire computer-based economy collapsing because of this year 2000 thing, it just makes me laugh. All Congress needs to do is, instead of calling the year 2000 ‘the year 2000,’ call it 1950. That way, we have another 50 years to solve the problem."

Now why didn’t I think of that.

But the best quote I have come across relative to this potential disaster is from Sen. Bennett. "It doesn’t matter if every computer in the country is Y2K compliant if you can’t plug it into something."

Stay tuned …