Resolved budget tiff frees Customs modernization funds

Resolved budget tiff frees Customs modernization funds


The Customs Service will stretch its long-awaited modernization plan over five years instead of four because of a funding shortfall.

'We will not have everything in the first release,' Customs chief information officer S.W. 'Woody' Hall said. 'We need to work out the details of the program with the new administration.'

The Treasury Department agency on Dec. 22 released a request for proposals for its Automated Commercial Environment.

Bidders must submit proposals by Feb. 5. The requirements have changed substantially from earlier plans, with an increased emphasis on oral presentations and the elimination of written technical and management proposals. Details can be found on the Customs Web site, at
The agency will award a contract by late spring or early summer.

'We're excited about getting the program started,' Hall said. The agency is looking forward to a streamlined procurement and starting the badly needed upgrade, he said. ACE will replace the Automated Commercial Service, a disco-era collection of applications running on antiquated mainframes.

Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting of Chicago, has already announced its plans to bid. Electronic Data Systems Corp., IBM Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. are among other likely bidders.

The ACE contractor will essentially run the program from enterprise engineering and transition of legacy applications to operation and maintenance.

Budget bickering
Funding for the project became tied up in a budget squabble over the fiscal 2001 Treasury, Postal Service and general government appropriations bill, which President Clinton vetoed Oct. 30.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">"The ACE program will be fine under the new administration. The program is good for the economy. If it is ineffective, it does not help at all. So either party would support the plan."

size="1" color="#000000">-CUSTOMS CIO S.W. "WOODY" HALL

When Congress passed and Clinton signed last month's final 2001 omnibus appropriations bill, the agency received $130 million for the modernization plan'$80 million less than requested. The service also received $123 million to keep the ACS running during the upgrade.

ACE will replace the 17-year-old ACS, which depends heavily on paper and manual input, and has endured several costly shutdowns because of data overloads.

Through the ACE project, Customs plans to improve its efficiency in managing and monitoring the nation's imports and exports.

Instead of processing each incoming shipment as a single transaction, a major importer would receive a monthly statement covering all transactions for a given company, officials said.

Hall said he expects no beef about the modernization from the incoming Bush administration. 'The ACE program will be fine under the new administration,' he said. 'The program is good for the economy. If it is ineffective, it does not help at all. So either party would support the plan.'

The agency's top priority this year is to award the contract and get the modernization under way. 'An equal priority, often unsaid, is to keep the legacy system operational and ACS running,' Hall said.

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