DHS achieves its manifest destiny

Electronic shipment processing now nationwide

The Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection agency is going digital. CBP is requiring truckers to submit cargo information in advance via its Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) technology in Alaska, the last state where use of the system has become mandatory.

The agency completed the process of rolling out systems for processing electronic manifests at all 99 land border ports on Nov. 7.

The port at Piegan, Mont., became the last land border entry to gain the electronic processing capability earlier this month.

Though the electronic manifest processing system now is deployed across the country, a recent survey of customs officers showed that they are dissatisfied with its performance and the associated support.

The latest state to be required to use the technology is Alaska. Trucks entering the Alcan, Dalton Cache and Skagway ports will be required to use the ACE Truck Manifest System by Feb. 11 under a rule issued in the Federal Register Nov. 13.

ACE consolidates previously separate cargo release systems into a single, integrated computer interface for CBP officers, and allows truck carriers to submit cargo information in advance. Advance notification allows customs officials to prescreen trucks and shipments, improving border security without delaying the border crossings of legitimate carriers.

Under ACE, truck carriers with commercial cargo must provide the required information at least one hour before reaching the first port of arrival into the country. Shippers qualified for the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) trusted-traveler program must submit information at least 30 minutes before entry.

"Equipping every United States land border port of entry with the capability to process e-manifests is a significant milestone that advances the CBP mission of ensuring border security while simultaneously facilitating legitimate trade," said Louis Samenfink, executive director for the CBP cargo systems program office, in a statement.

CBP phased in the requirement for land shippers to use the electronic system on a state-by-state basis. The first ports mandated to use ACE were in North Dakota, followed by California, Texas, New Mexico, Michigan, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Idaho, Montana, Maine and Minnesota.

On average CBP officers process more than 30,000 trucks per day using ACE. Ninety-nine percent of manifests are now filed electronically at all ports and nearly every trade entity can establish an ACE Secure Data Portal Account. The electronic manifest technology first began processing shipper data five years ago.

However, CBP officers have not been happy with the program. A recent survey, released in August, showed low CBP officer satisfaction with ACE due to problems with system reliability, data errors and insufficient real-time help.

Only 22 percent of officers said ACE made them more confident of their decisions to release trucks and a mere 14 percent of respondents relied on the ACE Help Desk due to slow response and long wait times.

Seventy-five percent of respondents were unsatisfied with ACE response time, 77 percent unsatisfied with system reliability due to outages and 67 percent were unsatisfied with data accuracy, citing communication problems and software bugs as issues. Seventy-four percent found the system reports unhelpful.

The system is also only marginally better than paper processes. Previous data collected found the average processing time for an electronic manifest was only 33 seconds faster than a traditional paper manifest.

CBP is offering a free ACE information session in San Francisco Nov. 27-29.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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