Customs automation project still troubled, GAO says

The Homeland Security Department's Automated Commercial Environment project to build a new trade processing system faces further cost and schedule overruns unless it tightens program management, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

The Border and Transportation Security Directorate's Customs and Border Protection agency runs the ACE project, which it inherited from the Treasury Department's Customs Service. The government auditing agency issued recommendations last year in a report that criticized cost and schedule overruns in the $1.3 billion, 15-year program [See GCN story].

In GAO's new report issued yesterday, auditors said that DHS had dealt with previous cost and schedule problems by shifting its baselines for program goals, as last year's audit report recommended.

But the new report added that 'it is unlikely that these actions will prevent future overruns because DHS has relaxed system quality standards, meaning that milestones are being passed despite material system defects.'

The auditors said that fixing the new ACE problems would force program officials to pilfer resources from future system releases.

Auditors also criticized the department's fiscal 2005 expenditure plan submitted for congressional oversight, saying it lacks needed details and is based on outdated information. 'Without complete information and an up-to-date plan, meaningful congressional oversight of program progress and accountability is impaired,' the report said.

In a written response to the report, DHS agreed with the auditors' recommendations and said it would respond to them. Customs issued a systems integration contract to IBM for ACE in 2001.

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