Project management aids Customs' ACE

To do a better job overseeing costs, schedules and risks in its Automated Commercial Environment project, the Customs and Border Protection Bureau sought outside help.

Robbins-Gioia LLC of Alexandria, Va., has given structure to the work that the ACE staff and contract teams at the Homeland Security Department bureau are going to perform, said Charles R. Armstrong, executive director of the bureau's Modernization Office.

'They've been key in helping us play the oversight role' on a project begun five years ago by the former Customs Service, he said.

ACE, a $1.3 billion, 15-year upgrade of the system used to track import-export data, aims to end reliance on paper and the Cobol-based Automated Commercial System, which itself has been hobbled through nuerous overloads and shutdowns.

Customs officials estimate ACE will save up to $4.4 billion over its lifecycle.

Separate contract

Robbins-Gioia entered the ACE equation more than a year and a half ago through a management contract separate from the prime modernization contract, which is held by IBM Corp. Independent verification and validation is handled by Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass.

A General Accounting Office audit in February said Customs was making progress resolving ACE weaknesses but ought to invest more in testing as a protective measure.

Armstrong said that comment was directed more toward Mitre than Robbins-Gioia.

'We're working with GAO right now to understand and build into the program what they're looking for in terms of independent verification and validation,' Armstrong said.

Robbins-Gioia has helped the bureau develop strategies for cost reduction, quality control and leadership skills, he said'specifically aiming to reach Level 2 of the Software Acquisition Capability Maturity Model of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

The bureau used Robbins-Gioia's existing program management baseline, drawn up from experience with other federal modernization contracts.

'These are things Robbins-Gioia evolved, so we didn't want to invent them ourselves,' Armstrong said. 'They've kind of been there, done that.'

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