Hill panel OKs $105m for Customs upgrade

Hill panel OKs $105m for Customs upgrade

By Shruti Dat' and

Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a spending bill that would allocate $105 million for the much-debated Customs Service modernization.

The funding measure'part of the $14.4 billion Treasury, Postal Service and general government fiscal 2001 appropriations bill'would let the Treasury Department agency continue work on its Automated Commercial Environment, which will replace the 16-year-old Automated Commercial System.

House Appropriations also approved a Customs request for $123 million to keep ACS on life support. Customs plans to use the money to replace the older system's packet-switched network with TCP/IP and to upgrade some of the service's desktop PCs, said Charles Armstrong, Customs' modernization director.

Custom's Charles Armstrong says agencies will have to revisit IT plans.

Trade share

Of the modernization funding, which Congress had wanted to zero out in the next fiscal year, Customs would spend $5.4 million on the International Trade Data System pilot. The project would let government agencies share data filed by the trade community, Armstrong said.

The total Customs appropriation of $233.4 million for systems projects would be $161 million more than the agency received this year.

Customs has had a turbulent year in regard to modernization.

The service in April received $3 million in supplemental funding to continue the National Customs Automation Program, a pilot to test the service's ACE development and deployment plan. Only weeks earlier, Treasury officials had announced in the Federal Register that the department would shut down the prototype because of a funding shortfall.

The Customs Modernization Office has focused recent efforts on planning and process improvement, Armstrong said. It is also refining its enterprise lifecycle for the modernization.

S.W. 'Woody' Hall Jr., Customs' assistant commissioner for information and technology and its chief information officer, said the House action is promising, but he won't relax until the Senate also has approved the funding.

Earlier, lawmakers and Treasury officials had discussed paying for the modernization through user fees from importers and exporters. But that debate seems over, Hall said.

'At the moment, it looks like it's going to be appropriated funds,' he said at the recent Excellence in Government 2000 conference in Washington.

Customs officials met with members of the Senate Appropriations Committee last month to discuss the modernization project. They will meet again later this month, Armstrong said.

The service originally had earmarked $210 million for the modernization effort. The request estimated that Customs would spend $139 million on software and $71 million on its systems infrastructure, Armstrong said.

'We have various plans based upon different funding levels,' Armstrong said. 'We will go back and negotiate that with the Hill as far as what we could deliver for the $105 million, what level of functionality it makes sense to deliver and at what locations. You have to look at it from a cost-benefit standpoint.'

Customs and Treasury officials have said the service must replace ACS because its maintenance is increasingly costly. Written in Cobol in the mid-1980s, ACS' applications run under OS/390 Version 2.7 on an IBM ES/9000 series mainframe with seven CPUs and 45T of disk storage. The system still handles many of its transactions using batch processing.

Because of the older architecture, users must access ACS apps through 3270 terminal emulation on desktop PCs.

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