General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
by E. E. Anderson

© American Bar Association. All rights reserved.

E. E. Anderson, a retired general in the U.S. Marine Corps, is the director of the Solo and Small Firms Division of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.

YEAR 2000 GLITCH

What will happen if computer systems and applications go haywire in the year 2000? The problem will arise as a consequence of the 1960s practice of using two digits, such as "95" or "96," rather than four, to represent a year in the computer data field. Under this format, a computer won't be able to distinguish between the "00" in year 2000 from 1900 unless corrective measures are taken.

Congress is very concerned that the administration is not moving swiftly enough to correct this problem. Rep. Steve Horn (R-CA), chair of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, has said that Congress will be the whipping boy if a Social Security recipient does not receive a check because of a known computer problem. Rep. Horn has issued a progress report that reveals that 14 out of 24 major federal agencies will not fix their problems by 2000 unless they take more aggressive measures now.

In a press release dated March 4, 1998, Rep. Horn indicated that at the present rate of progress, only 63 percent of the 8,000 mission-critical systems in the executive branch will be ready for the date change when the calendar reaches 2000. The grading of the federal departments is an eyesore. Three received grades of A, six with grades of B, four with grades of C or C-, six with grades of D or D-, and five (Departments of Education, Defense, Transportation, Labor, and State) received grades of F. An overall grade of D- was assessed for all federal departments and agencies.

Estimates as to how much it will cost the federal government to fix the problem vary from approximately $4 billion to $30 billion. Recent quarterly financial statements of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded corporations indicate that they expect to spend $11 billion to fix the date glitch. Financial service firms estimate they will spend $3.5 billion. According to a May 3, 1998, front-page article in the Washington Post, these estimated costs are considered small in comparison to the price tag for legal fees and compensation for any failures that occur. While no one knows how many cases there will be, Lloyds of London has advanced a cost estimate of $1 trillion.

Lawsuits have already been filed concerning this problem. In a Michigan suit filed by a grocery store against a cash register manufacturer whose registers would crash when a clerk swiped a credit card that expires in the year "00," a mediator recommended an award of $250,000. Already, a high-profile New York law firm has filed the first class-action suit because of this problem and lawyers are now attending seminars on how to file and defend year 2000 cases.

At the urging of Congress, the president, on February 4, 1998, issued Executive Order 13073-Year 2000 Conversion. Section 2 of that order creates a president's council on the year 2000 conversion. A former Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, John Koskinen, was appointed as chair of the council, and a conversion web site has been created (www.y2k.gov). When completed, it will define 15 areas of concern that could be affected by the year 2000 problem.

Immigration Problems and the INS

On April 9, 1998, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report showing that the nation's foreign-born population passed the 25 million mark last year and was growing at a rate four times faster than the country's population as a whole. The growth has exceeded 30 percent just since 1990. The total number of immigrants arriving in this country is on a rapid increase--from 400,000 in the 1970s to more than 900,000 last year.

With the inability of the INS to reduce the ranks of illegal immigrants, estimated at five million, and an enormous backlog of applications for visas and citizenship, the INS has come under congressional fire. Although Republicans (and many Democrats) want changes, there appears to be no consensus on how to solve the problem and overcome White House objections.

Most of the dissatisfaction is associated with the INS's handling of its dual missions of trying to keep out illegal immigrants while assisting those who legally arrive on our shores. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) wants the INS split up and its functions divided among three other departments. Enforcement functions would remain with the Justice Department. Visas and naturalization would go to the State Depart-ment, and the policing of illegal immigrants in the workplace would be given to the Labor Department.

Criticism of the INS became more vocal when, under directions from Director Doris Meissner, it fostered the program Citizenship USA to speed up naturalization. This program resulted in 180,000 people granted citizenship in late 1995 and 1996 without proper background checks. A subsequent audit showed that 369 of that number had been convicted of crimes and another 5,954 lied on their applications. Republicans stated that the problems associated with Citizenship USA were caused by pressure from the White House to naturalize as many citizens as possible before the 1996 elections, thinking that the majority of them voting would vote Democratic. The White House and the INS dispute those charges, and strongly oppose the split recommended by Rep. Rogers.

Another immigration problem being debated is the restoration of food stamps to 250,000 legal immigrants who were cut off from these benefits by the 1996 welfare law (P.L. 104-193). The restoration is part of S. 1150, a measure reauthorizing federal agriculture research programs. That legislation would provide $800 million to restore food stamps to the elderly and disabled immigrants who were in the United States when the welfare law was signed on August 22, 1996. Children who were less than 18 at that time would also have their food stamps restored. The legislation appears to be assured of approval in the Senate, but will have a more difficult time in the House.

Another problem is connected with the H-1B visas. The H-1B program was adopted in 1990 to restrict the entrance of foreign doctors. Last year, all 65,000 visas were claimed, mostly by computer experts. The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) has estimated that more than 10 percent of all information technology (IT) positions are unfilled. This number is approximately 345,000.

The Department of Labor projects that by 2005, there will be a demand for 95,000 new programming computer scientists and system analysts a year, while our colleges and universities are producing only 36,000 a year. This is an alarming statistic when one realizes that in 1986, U.S. colleges and universities graduated 50,000 computer majors, and this number dropped to 36,000 in 1995. Further, 40 percent of the computer majors in U.S. colleges and universities are foreign nationals.

The Departments of Education and Labor contend, however, that with proper funding, the American education system can train the numbers of IT specialists needed to fill the demand. In January, the administration announced a $28 million plan for retraining individuals for computer-related job openings. The DOL also argues that many employers are too choosy. Employers today demand individuals trained on modern program languages, such as FORTRAN, BASIC, JAVA, and others, not those who for years have worked on the old mainframe computers using COBAL. Admin-istration leaders claim that industry does not want to retrain those older individuals and prefers those who are already trained in the new systems. Additionally, the Commerce Department has clearly expressed the administration's opposition to expanding the number of H-1B immigrants.

Industry is pressing Congress for relief, and on April 2, 1998, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1723, a measure that would increase the number of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 95,000 per year, with the possibility of going to 115,000 if other categories go unfilled. While it will probably pass the Senate, there will be opposition in the House, and President Clinton has opposed such legislation. The increased number of these visas would last until 2002, and the bill also would provide $50 million for math, engineering, and computer scholarships in our learning institutions.

Transportation Legislation-Pork or Not?

Just before adjourning last year, the House and Senate agreed on a temporary spending bill to keep transportation money flowing to the states. This six-month extension ended on May 1, 1998. Since Congress reconvened in January, both the Senate and the House have worked feverishly to pass transportation reauthorization bills before the short-term extension expires.

On March 12, 1998, by a vote of 96-4,the Senate passed S. 1173, which provides $217.3 billion for a six-year reauthorization of highway and mass transit programs. While S. 1173 passed with an overwhelming vote, some senators were not pleased, deploring the practice of making their states "pay the price for other states earmarked projects." Sen. John H. Chafee (R-RI), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, tried to hold the line in keeping within the limits outlined in the balanced-budget deal.

On the House side, Transportation and Information Committee Chair Bud Shuster (R-PA) was "taking on all comers" in ensuring that his bill, H.R. 2400, remained intact. Despite strong opposition from House Budget Committee Chair John R. Kasich (R-OHIO) and others, Rep. Shuster saw H.R. 2400, a $219 billion bill, pass on April 1, 1998, by a vote of 337-80.

Many issues confront the House and Senate conference, which commenced meetings on April 21. Rep. Shuster became chair of the Conference Committee, but despite the efforts of the conference, no agreement was reached by May 1 and the short-term extension expired. This funding freeze has the biggest effect on about 30 states that have shorter construction seasons and smaller states with fewer financial resources. Probably the biggest hurdle for the conferees is to find the necessary offsets in other programs to pay for the transportation projects. Senate Budget Committee Chair Pete D. Domenici (R-NM) already had indicated that $18.5 billion in his budget plan could be used for offsets, but on April 22 he said that the necessary offsets could be "more like $25 to $30 billion."

Another battle looms over the provision in the House bill that would take the Highway Trust Fund off budget and hence out of bounds for other types of spending or deficit reduction. Sen. Chafee and other senators have expressed their opposition to taking the trust fund off budget. There is a provision in the Senate bill that would withhold highway funding from states that do not set a blood-alcohol content limit of 0.08 percent for drunk-driving offenses by the year 2001. This limit would put pressure on 33 states that have a blood-alcohol content limit of 0.10 percent for those offenses and on two states that do not use blood-alcohol content for proving intoxication. However, Rep. Shuster said on April 22, that he was willing to make concessions to the Senate on the drunk-driving provision in return for assurances that future tax revenues would be used exclusively for highway construction.

A provision of $9 billion for "Demonstration Projects" contained in the House bill faces strong opposition in the Senate. These projects were begun in the 1970s when members inserted projects in their home districts that were ostensibly to demonstrate new road-building techniques.

An example of a demonstration project is S. 1173, a provision for $1 billion to develop and construct high-speed magnetic levitation trains throughout the country. Sen. Chafee added the funds to the bill after personally driving a MAGLEV train in Germany last year. He has support on the Democratic side from Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-NY), who believes this technology is the most important development in transportation since the airplane. These trains, with operating speeds of 267 miles per hour, are soon to commence a commercial run between Berlin and Hamburg, and with four stops, will make the 181-mile trip in just under one hour.

It appears that the Conference Committee will wrap up its work by mid-May and the highway bill will easily be passed. In fact, on April 20, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-SD) warned the president not to veto the bill. At the same time, when Sen. Lott was asked about how far the president would get by vetoing the popular highway bill, he said, "About as far as Ronald Reagan did when he vetoed the highway bill." In 1987, the Senate overrode President Reagan's veto by a vote of 67 to 33, with 13 Republican votes, including Lott's. CL

     


Table of
Contents

Back to Top

< /