One step forward, one step back at the border

One step forward, one step back at the border

'What we are looking at is account-based management, which is the real meat of our functionality and driving us toward risk management and trade compliance.'

Customs project to speed trucks through crossings remains on hold since Sept. 11, but paperwork-reduction project is on track

The Customs Service has $300 million in its pocket this year to advance its Automated Commercial Environment system modernization, but the agency has suspended another IT project to speed trucks through border crossings.

Customs has chalked out a four-year development and technology plan for ACE, which will be finalized this month, said Charles Armstrong, executive director of the Customs Modernization Office.

The agency has not resumed the International Trade Data System pilot project it began at Buffalo, N.Y., last Aug. 27. ITDS, which was designed to streamline paperwork for trucks crossing the border, lasted two weeks.

After Sept. 11, the test was suspended because of heightened security conditions at the border.

It will remain suspended until the alert is lifted, said Vicki Hodziewich, executive lead for requirements at the Customs Modernization Office.

ITDS will help border inspectors clear cargo and drivers before they arrive at the border by letting them examine documents online.

Generally, inspectors review paperwork handed to them by drivers in person or mailed in by customs brokers, although some brokers provide the information electronically now.

Touch screen

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

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

The system will combine information from PCs in the inspectors' booths, with data in mainframes at the Trade Systems Branch of the Customs Information and Technology Office in Springfield, Va.

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

ITDS will process the information, sending it to Customs, the Food and Drug Administration, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Transportation Department.

Customs will check the information for the imported commodities, FDA will determine if food products are safe for consumption, Immigration will inspect the status of the truck crew and Transportation will verify the condition of the vehicle.

Once the truck reaches the border, an on-board transponder will register it with Customs receivers, and the screen on an inspector's PC will display results from the other agencies. The inspector will let the truck continue or will stop it for further inspection.

Customs will eventually integrate ITDS with ACE.

'The suspension of the ITDS pilot project is not affecting us,' said Harry Sundberg, project executive for ACE contractor IBM Corp.'s e-Customs partnership. 'It's a pilot, and there was not a significant portion of the code that we could have used. But we are using the business architecture requirements of the pilot for ACE.'

Less paper

The service in April awarded a $1.3 billion, 15-year contract to IBM as prime contractor for its modernization. ACE will replace the 17-year-old Automated Commercial System.

ACS depends heavily on paper and manual input, and Customs has been unable to scale the system to meet the demands of the increase in importing and exporting since it went online.

The service is counting on ACE to manage the nation's imports and exports more efficiently.

This year, Customs' contractors will begin writing code for the first phase of ACE, which will focus on imports and exports and land borders.

Importers considered low security risks will be allowed to file account information with the agency.

Customs plans to build data reference centers where it will store account information for importers so they don't have to file the same information repeatedly.

The agency hopes to get the first release out by February 2003, Armstrong said.

The second phase will integrate data on air, sea and rail cargo movement. During this phase, Customs will migrate data from ACS to ACE and develop interfaces with other agencies that track cargo movement, such as FDA and the Census Bureau.

'What we are looking at is account-based management, which is the real meat of our functionality and driving us toward risk management and trade compliance,' Armstrong said.

Phase 3 will focus on internal administrative functions such as better financial controls, tracking cargo movements enterprisewide and coordinating links with enforcement agencies. In the final phase Customs aims to improve its ability to oversee free trade.

The request for proposals for the development was issued last month, and work will begin in February.

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