Customs pilot gets $3 million in life support

The Treasury Department has secured $3 million to continue the Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment pilot through the end of this fiscal year, an about-face from its plan to shut down the prototype this month because of funding shortfalls, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

The Treasury Department has secured $3 million to continue the Customs Service's Automated Commercial Environment pilot through the end of this fiscal year, an about-face from its plan to shut down the prototype this month because of funding shortfalls, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), who oversees Treasury accounts in the committee, approved the department's reprogramming request March 6 to appropriate $1.8 million from fiscal 1999 unobligated balances to continue the ACE pilot, according to the committee.

Adding up

Treasury recently analyzed internal funding options and decided to funnel $1.2 million from other department sources to help pay for the pilot, according to a letter to Kolbe from Treasury chief financial officer Lisa Ross.

In a Feb. 16 letter to Customs Service commissioner Raymond Kelly, Kolbe expressed disappointment with Treasury's decision to discontinue the pilot.

'No funding was requested for these specific activities in the fiscal 2000 budget or in the recent fiscal 2000 supplemental request,' Kolbe wrote. 'Our committee struggled to make up the shortfall for [the Automated Commercial Environment] in the president's [fiscal 2000 budget], and we repeatedly made it clear that the replacement of the Automated Commercial System and modernization in general continue to be a top priority for the committee.'

The prototype is the first step in Customs' system modernization, a project with an estimated cost of $2 billion over 15 years [GCN, Feb. 21, Page 6].

Future funding remains uncertain for the ACE pilot, which would expand the use of electronic transactions to process imports by replacing the 16-year-old Automated Commercial System.

'The recently completed cost-benefit analysis for conversion from ACS to ACE shows that modernizing Customs trade data processing will provide significant benefits to both the federal government and private industry,' Kelly testified at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 14.

Funding is key

'The administration looks forward to working with the Congress on the fee to ensure that funding for this critical project is made available in fiscal 2001,' Kelly said.

Treasury's budget request includes implementation of a user fee that would raise $210 million to fund ACE development'$139 million for software development and $71 million for infrastructure, Kelly said.

In partnership with Mitre Corp. of Bedford, Mass., Customs has designed a software development blueprint and an enterprise architecture, moved toward Level 2 capability maturity model software development, established a modernization office, and completed an acquisition and source selection plan, Kelly said.

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