A temporary Senate committee created to address the year-2000 problem will make the financial services industry its fourth- highest priority.

The Senate Special Committee on the Year-2000 Technology Problem will hold hearings, seek expert testimony, and become a public clearing house for year-2000 information.

Although it lacks the power to draft legislation, the group's two ex officio members-Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and ranking minority member Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.-could help propel any legislative proposals.

Sen. Robert F. Bennett, the year-2000 committee's chairman, said his first priority will be the nation's electric power grid, followed by the telecommunications, transportation, and financial services sectors.

After that, the Utah Republican plans to address the year-2000 problem's impact on government services, general business services, and litigation.

The new committee meets privately for the first time next week. Public hearings are expected to begin in June.

Sen. Bennett has already hosted seven hearings on the millennium bug via his Senate Banking subcommittee on financial services and technology. But the year-2000 committee's broad mandate will extend his reach well beyond bankers and their regulators.

With an annual budget of $575,000 and a phaseout date of Feb. 29, 2000, the special committee's staff will consist mostly of personnel borrowed from executive branch agencies, including the departments of defense, energy, and commerce, said a spokesman for Sen. Bennett.

Fellow Banking Committee member Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., will serve as vice chairman. Other members include Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore., Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D- N.Y., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Many observers believe banks are well ahead of other industries in fixing their year-2000 problems. But because of their heavy dependence on information technology, financial institutions are considered to be at particular risk.

The Senate's creation of a year-2000 committee comes two months after President Clinton created an executive branch council to prod government agencies on their own year-2000 problems.

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