Coalition calls on Congress to increase funding for the Automated Commercial Environment
A coalition of industry representatives called on Congress Thursday to increase funding for the Customs Service's modernization plan.
President Bush has proposed $130 million for Customs' Automated Commercial Environment for fiscal 2002, a figure that would stretch the implementation of the system across 14 years, industry officials said during meeting with reporters and congressional staff members.
"The $130 million figure is probably insufficient," said Robert Cresanti, senior vice president of government affairs for the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington, Va.-based industry group.
That kind of piecemeal funding is a "recipe for failure," said Sam Banks, chief customs officer for Arzoon.com Inc., San Mateo, Calif., and a former acting Customs commissioner. If ACE is going to be implemented, it should be implemented efficiently and effectively, he said, and it needs to be funded across a five-year time frame.
The group has launched its lobbying effort just as Customs is in the home stretch of preparations to award the prime contract for ACE. That could happen as soon as next week.
Customs is waiting for approval from the General Accounting Office before it can award the contract. GAO's approval would release the $45 million from fiscal 2001 that would fund the prime contract.
Officials from Caterpillar Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were part of the group supporting the Customs modernization.
Caterpillar is able to track parts as they are transported around the world, said Ronald Schoff, manager of customs and export regulations for Caterpillar. "But when they reach the United States and Customs asks for documentation, we have to stop and hit the print button," he said.
The 17-year-old Automated Commercial System is increasingly unable to deal with the requirements of a global economy and has become increasingly susceptible to brownouts, delaying shipments of imported goods at U.S. ports and border crossings.
"Customs is ready for this," Banks said. The agency has a business plan in place and is merely waiting for the necessary approval to begin.
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