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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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OVER A BARREL

If you're poor and already in hock up to your eyeballs, it's hard to borrow more money. If you need the money in a hurry, well, you're over a barrel.
Case in point: The Virgin Islands government and its Y2K problem.
Over the barrel last week was the Senate, whose 15 members twisted and turned, bobbed and weaved, reluctant to approve a $31.1 million loan to pay for fixing the millennium problem in government computers, but afraid not to go ahead. In the end, fear prevailed.
Some senators were unhappy about the absence from their witness list of Dean Wallace, who was in charge of Y2K for the recently departed Schneider administration. These senators knew the Y2K plan handed them by Gov. Charles Turnbull was a dusted off version of what Wallace produced for
Schneider last fall; some of the background documents handed around during the Senate discussion last week still had Schneider's name on them.
The impression last fall was that there was a government task force working on the problem. Well, yes and no.
"The task force was Dean Wallace," a Schneider administration source told us. "Wallace and some people from IBM. The IBM
people went around looking at computers in the various departments, then told Wallace 'Here are the problems, here's how much it will cost for us to fix them.'"
The significance of this, of course, is that 50 percent of the loan so reluctantly
approved by the Senate last Friday will be provided by IBM, which clearly expects to sell the local government millions of dollars in Y2K-compliant hardware and software.
The one thing everyone agrees on is that most of the government's key computer systems are an outdated mess with serious problems unrelated to the approaching millennium.
One example: the hospital billing systems on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. Each system was provided by a different manufacturer. Each software package came from a different company. Both companies have departed the
software market and, therefore, are not available to grapple with Y2K.
That's why the loan is so large. It's intended to cover the cost of entirely new systems — compatible with each other — for both hospitals.
The same expensive approach is contemplated for other important systems.
It’s the brute force approach to solving Y2K.
IBM'S partner in the loan is Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. If the government avails itself of the full amount of the 10-year loan, together they stand to pocket as much as $10.8 million in interest — exempt from all Virgin Islands taxes — plus $685,000 in fees and expenses paid up front.
As if all this weren't enough, some computer experts say that 11 months isn't enough time to fix all the government's computers and that there might well be disruptions here next January.
In which case, the government is not only over a barrel, but that barrel is floating down the river toward a waterfall called
Y2K.
Editor’s note: Frank J. Jordan is a local radio commentator, former UVI journalism professor and former NBC news executive.

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If you're poor and already in hock up to your eyeballs, it's hard to borrow more money. If you need the money in a hurry, well, you're over a barrel.
Case in point: The Virgin Islands government and its Y2K problem.
Over the barrel last week was the Senate, whose 15 members twisted and turned, bobbed and weaved, reluctant to approve a $31.1 million loan to pay for fixing the millennium problem in government computers, but afraid not to go ahead. In the end, fear prevailed.
Some senators were unhappy about the absence from their witness list of Dean Wallace, who was in charge of Y2K for the recently departed Schneider administration. These senators knew the Y2K plan handed them by Gov. Charles Turnbull was a dusted off version of what Wallace produced for
Schneider last fall; some of the background documents handed around during the Senate discussion last week still had Schneider's name on them.
The impression last fall was that there was a government task force working on the problem. Well, yes and no.
"The task force was Dean Wallace," a Schneider administration source told us. "Wallace and some people from IBM. The IBM
people went around looking at computers in the various departments, then told Wallace 'Here are the problems, here's how much it will cost for us to fix them.'"
The significance of this, of course, is that 50 percent of the loan so reluctantly
approved by the Senate last Friday will be provided by IBM, which clearly expects to sell the local government millions of dollars in Y2K-compliant hardware and software.
The one thing everyone agrees on is that most of the government's key computer systems are an outdated mess with serious problems unrelated to the approaching millennium.
One example: the hospital billing systems on both St. Thomas and St. Croix. Each system was provided by a different manufacturer. Each software package came from a different company. Both companies have departed the
software market and, therefore, are not available to grapple with Y2K.
That's why the loan is so large. It's intended to cover the cost of entirely new systems -- compatible with each other -- for both hospitals.
The same expensive approach is contemplated for other important systems.
It’s the brute force approach to solving Y2K.
IBM'S partner in the loan is Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. If the government avails itself of the full amount of the 10-year loan, together they stand to pocket as much as $10.8 million in interest -- exempt from all Virgin Islands taxes -- plus $685,000 in fees and expenses paid up front.
As if all this weren't enough, some computer experts say that 11 months isn't enough time to fix all the government's computers and that there might well be disruptions here next January.
In which case, the government is not only over a barrel, but that barrel is floating down the river toward a waterfall called
Y2K.
Editor’s note: Frank J. Jordan is a local radio commentator, former UVI journalism professor and former NBC news executive.