Customs to check cargo online

Customs to check cargo online


The Customs Service has begun testing the International Trade Data System, which will streamline paperwork for trucks crossing the border in, Buffalo, N.Y.

The pilot, a joint effort with four other agencies, will test a longstanding initiative in Customs' modernization plans.

ITDS officials will help inspectors clear cargo and drivers before arrival at the border by letting them examine documents online, said John B. Hill, chief of the Trade Systems Branch of the Customs Information and Technology Office in Springfield, Va.

John B. Hill
John B. Hill says Customs expects ITDS to become a governmentwide collection system for trade data.
Generally, inspectors review paperwork handed to them by drivers in person or mailed in by customs brokers, although some brokers provide the information electronically through an existing system interface.

But while the system holds promise, it has faced obstacles.

The agency has spent $4 million this year on the pilot. A June General Accounting Office report, Customs Service Modernization: Results of Review of First Automated Commercial Environment Expenditure Plan, criticized Customs' investment in ITDS.

Not my job

The report said Customs assigned conflicting responsibilities to the contractor that would review the system.

GAO recommended that Customs transfer responsibility for ITDS to the Automated Commercial Environment modernization program manager and include the system's costs, benefits and risk justification in the next ACE expenditure plan.

Vicki Hodziewich, executive lead for requirements at the Customs Modernization Office, agreed with the report and said Customs would incorporate ITDS requirements into its ACE plan. Hodziewich also has explained the role of the contractor to GAO.

Customs plans for ITDS to grow into a governmentwide system for the electronic collection, use and dissemination of international trade data. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is Customs' partner on the project, and the Food and Drug Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are also involved.

Truckers: I declare

ITDS testing is limited to brokers who participate in the Automated Broker Interface, a component of Customs' Automated Commercial System that permits brokers, importers, carriers and port authorities to electronically file import data.

Truckers must have Web browser access, preferably via Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0, to submit the transport declarations.

'We are using new technology and new processes for testing ITDS,' Hill said.
For instance, importers and exporters will use the Web to submit data, and Customs will notify them of cargo status through the Web, he said.

Customs hired Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., to develop the Web site through which carriers file the information.

Inspectors at the border use touch-screens to retrieve information about a truck and its cargo.

The system is a distributed data processing environment, using information from PCs in the inspectors' booth and Unix servers and IBM Corp. mainframes at the Springfield data center.

Each broker will submit to ITDS a goods declaration, a detailed document containing information about the kind of cargo and its value and origin. Declarations are used by Customs to assess duties, Hill said.

Four-way scan

ITDS will process the information, which will be sent to Customs, FDA, INS and the Transportation Department.

Under the system, Customs checks the information for the commodities being imported, FDA checks if food products are safe for consumption, Immigration checks the status of the truck crew and Transportation verifies the condition of the vehicle.

'All this information will be processed before the truck arrives at the border,' Hill said.

Once the truck reaches the border, an onboard transponder registers it with Customs receivers, and the screen on an inspector's PC displays the results from the other agencies. The inspector lets the truck continue or stops it for further inspection.

'The main benefit for the trade community is faster cargo release,' Hill said, adding that brokers and carriers will have to submit information only once. It also will enhance the agencies' ability to carry out enforcement, he said.

Within the next six months, Customs plans to gauge the trade community's reaction to ITDS, to find out whether trucks were cleared faster at the border and determine if the additional data helps Customs perform its enforcement duties.


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