Auditors warn of delays, overruns in Customs system

Auditors warn of delays, overruns in Customs system

The Homeland Security Department's massive new system for processing import-export data faces continuing cost and scheduling problems, the General Accounting Office said today.

Customs and Border Protection, a DHS agency, last year inherited the Automated Commercial Environment project from the Customs Service. IBM Corp. in 2001 had won a competition for the $1.3 billion, 15-year ACE program.

Since then, cost and scheduling problems have multiplied, GAO reported. ACE releases 1 and 2 cost $109.4 million instead of the planned $86.1 million, while releases 3 and 4 ballooned from $146.4 million to $192.4 million, GAO said.

Meanwhile, Release 1 was delayed by a month, Release 2 by five months, Release 3 by five months and Release 4 by seven months, the auditors found. Release 3 was scheduled for completion in March but has been pushed to August. Release 4, scheduled for July, has been pushed to February 2005.

GAO said the customs agency coped by borrowing resources from forthcoming releases and overlapping activities to catch up with its schedule.

'This domino effect is continuing into Release 3 and beyond,' the report said, adding that the pattern is unlikely to change 'unless the degree of concurrence among activities within and between releases is better controlled.' That will force the agency to deal with the quality problems that led to the concurrent activities, it said.

Department officials said they agree with the auditors' conclusions and are working to correct the problems.

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