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Blame Y2K? We honestly can't, but we'd sure like to.

With the 20th century winding down, the possibility of a computer meltdown of cosmic proportions seems to be fading as the federal government, major financial institutions, and most significant businesses confidently predicting that they are "Y2K compliant." Even Alan Greenspan is relaxing a bit. But the progress that has been made does not mean that some problems won't occur. And we still find it hard to locate right-thinking people who are eager to be on airplanes or in elevators on December 31 as the clock strikes midnight, though that may have something to do with the fact that it will be the middle of the night!

The possibility of anticipatory Y2K snafus wreaking havoc recently prompted The Tax Executive to investigate whether TEI members had been the victims of errant computer programming in two unrelated instances. The investigation is not yet complete, but there is growing evidence that only a Luddite would lay the blame on end-of-the-century technology screw-ups. (Efforts to blame them on Rio or to invoke Milli Vanilli and blame them on the rain should also prove unsuccessful.)

First, the Guide to TEI On-Line -- which was highlighted on the coyer of the July-August 1999 issue of The Tax Executive -- was inserted so firmly in the binding of that issue that readers seeking to remove it would have had to disassemble the magazine to extract the TOL Guide. The sticky situation has been rectified by mailing an additional Guide to all TEI members (courtesy of the printer), but Kurt Larrick, TEI's Publication Coordinator, remains disappointed. "The Advanced Technology Committee and the staff of Tax News Network worked hard and well to produce an excellent product. Although the pamphlet retains all its value, it is frustrating that a production error delayed its receipt by TEI members. If members have not received their Guide to TEI On-Line by October 15 or if their July-August issue was damaged in an attempt to remove the Guide, they should call (202) 638-5601 to request a replacement copy."

Second, the 1990-2000 Membership Roster -- which was mailed to all TEI members shortly before Labor Day -- regrettably does not contain complete, up-to-date information on all members of the Institute. Perhaps the most irritating glitch was the truncation of the zip codes of many members. Specifically, where a member's zip code begins with a zero, that first digit is omitted. Hence, the listings of members in New Jersey and New England contain only four-digit zip codes. "Remember how we were all taught in school that a zero at the beginning of a number is of no significance?" asked Mr. Larrick, whose duties include overseeing production of the roster. "Well, someone must not have gotten the word that the Postal Service doesn't think so." All kidding aside, Mr. Larrick said the cause of the problem had been identified and corrected.

In addition to the zip code problem, some members' listings were excluded from the roster because their payments were not received or processed before the publication cut-off date. According to Sherrie Roberts, TEI's new Membership Coordinator, a significant percentage of the exclusions seems to be attributable to members' not being aware that their dues had not been paid. She explained that a final dues notice had been faxed to all unpaid members, but apparently those notices did not always find their ways to the members. A notice that was mailed to the members after the roster was published was more successful, she added, and accordingly the final notice may well be mailed in the future. "Frankly, we were surprised that a `snail mail' letter generated so much better a response," Executive Director Mike Murphy commented. "It may well have been the content or `look' of the notice that generated the better response, but if we need to change our delivery mechanism to get the word to our members, that's what we'll do."

Asked to comment on the roster, Mr. Murphy said he was pleased that the publication was mailed before Labor Day -- nearly a month before last year's. He was troubled, however, by the exclusions and the other errors. "Our error rate was lower than last year, so I do not think our emphasizing a timely product caused the problems. But for many members the roster is the most important publication we produce each year. We have to get it right."

Noting that Ms. Roberts had been hired in late June to enhance TEI's level of member service, Mr. Murphy explained that TEI had already made a number of changes to increase the quality of the roster. "Our ultimate goal is to take the roster on-line, and we have retained an association management system consultant to help us attain that objective. Even before we do that -- which may require us to replace our entire AMS -- we have to ensure that we have the right processes in place and that our staff is properly trained."

Asked about the possibility that a end-of-the-century computer bug may have contributed the roster problems, Mr. Murphy laughed. "When I asked about possible causes, I thought the voice mail message I received included a reference to `Y2K.' I may not know a lot about computers, but even I am not going to fall for that excuse in August and September. I'll be honest, though. When I played back the message, what the person said was "WHY DO you ask? Is everything OKAY?' The answer to that question, of course, is no. But we are getting there."
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Publication:Tax Executive
Date:Sep 1, 1999
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