In Capital, Neighborhood Groups Pick Up Y2K Slack

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WASHINGTON -- In the nation's capital, local groups are doing what many people say the city so far has failed to do -- prepare residents for possible disruptions caused by the Y2K computer bug.

With the District of Columbia behind on plans for Y2K readiness, churches and community groups are stressing the need for a community-based response to the Year 2000 challenge.

'Congregations need to emphasize these kind of community responses -- even if people can only make small gestures, such as buying extra food for the church food pantry as well as for their families,' said Clark Lobenstine, the executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. Lobenstine's group has held meetings to help organizations get prepared and distributes Y2K information through its newsletter.

This kind of preparation could become important because the District of Columbia, like many other local governments, got a late start in ensuring that the city's computer systems are Y2K-compliant.

In fact, officials have said that remediation efforts got under way too late to guarantee that all the systems will be compliant in time for Jan. 1, 2000. In an interview with the CBS news program '60 Minutes' last May, the head of the city's 2000 program said the focus will be on fixing the critical computer systems and coming up with contingency plans to do things manually, if necessary. That could mean writing out welfare checks by hand, for example.

While Washington is not the only municipality to begin working on Y2K at a late date, the city's slow start has gotten a lot of attention for the obvious reason that it is the home of the federal government. Along with the '60 Minutes' story and numerous newspaper articles, the city's preparations have been reviewed by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The strength of the city's preparations will also stay in the public eye past midnight Dec. 31 -- the White House plans to host three days of millennium celebrations in Washington at the end of December and early January.

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