The Interview

Question: The Y2K problem was arguably the biggest management challenge in the history of this country. You led this effort; congratulations on an enormous success. Can you describe your role in more detail for our readers?

Answer: I chair the President's Council on Y2K conversion. When we created the Council, the primary focus was on Federal systems. I started two years ago, and the consensus was that our Federal government was never going to make it because of the complexity, size, and age of its major systems. It quickly became clear, however, that we needed to reach out further, to State and local governments who administer major Federal programs, as a second tier of the problem. Next, we organized the Federal effort to reach out to everybody else who we were concerned about in critical areas like power and telecommunications, here and in other countries around the world where major failures would create problems for the public or our economy. By the spring of 1998, we had begun to organize a set of working groups that covered all the critical infrastructure industries in the United States and, ultimately, 170 countries around the world.

Question: How you get the responsibility of putting this colossal undertaking together?

Answer: I made the mistake of leaving a forwarding address when I left the government in July of 1997. From '94-'97, I was the Deputy Director for Management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, so all of the Vice President's Reinventing Government initiatives came through my office. I also chaired a set of inter-agency councils, including the President's Management Council, and I was in charge of coordinating government management efforts, including two government shutdowns that went reasonably smoothly.




As a result, I knew almost all of the Senior Executives across the government, and I had some experience in bringing the whole government to bear on an issue. This caused people to assume, when they needed to fill this position, that I'd be a logical target.

And, you agreed.

And, I agreed. It's a little hard to turn down the President and the Vice President when they ask you to deal with what obviously was a major problem for the economy and the government.

Question: How would you define the Information Coordination Center, and how does it relate to the overall project?

Answer: It was clear from the start that there was no place in the government with the capacity to absorb information from everywhere, in effect, all at one time. Generally, when we collect information about an emergency, it's geographically limited. Five states for a hurricane, a couple for a tornado. Even in Kosovo, you're looking at a certain geographic part of the world. Everyone's information systems were geared-up for that kind of emergency management.

[We knew that] as we moved through the transition on January 1, 2000, we were going to need to know what was happening everywhere in 180 countries, 50 state and hundreds of local governments, and all the critical infrastructure industries. To collect all that information, we'd need to have a new information center.

Also, even if we could find such an emergency center in the government -- which we didn't -- taking it over for this purpose would mean it would lose its functionality if there were other emergencies going on.




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