The Cost of Fixing the Year 2000 Bug

Just how much it will cost to vanquish the date problem still is unclear. The Federal Reserve predicts that U.S. businesses will have to spend at least $50 billion, while Triaxsys Research, a consulting firm that has analyzed Securities and Exchange Commission data, estimates that the 500 biggest public U.S. companies alone will have to shell out about $49 billion. The federal government, whose price tag for repairs has increased steadily over the last year, must allocate at least $5 billion to fix its computers.

All told, industry analysts predict that the worldwide bill for the massive repair effort will come in somewhere between $300 billion and $600 billion, eclipsing the out-of-pocket costs of such late-20th-century cataclysms as the Persian Gulf War, the 1993 Midwest floods, the savings and loan bailout in the 1980s and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

"It's one of the most expensive, labor-intensive, time-consuming problems mankind has ever faced," said Ann K. Coffou, a Y2K analyst at the Giga Information Group, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass.

As a result, a growing cadre of computer experts and business analysts is issuing gloom-and-doom predictions about the state of the world in January 2000. Their scenarios start with minor disruptions in daily life: Airplane flights will be delayed, phone service won't work in some countries, traffic lights won't be timed properly, factory workers will need to fill out their timecards by hand. Other forecasts warn the sky will fall: Power failures will be widespread, assembly lines will grind to a halt, automated teller machines won't dispense cash, government benefit checks will be delayed, hundreds of businesses will go bankrupt.

Many of those ringing the warning bell are the techies trying to fix the problem. More than 50 percent of technology professionals recently polled by Chief Information Officer magazine said they would not fly on a commercial airplane on Jan. 1, 2000. Another survey, conducted by the Gartner Group consulting firm, found that 38 percent of computer industry executives are thinking about withdrawing their personal assets from banks and investment companies.

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