GAO faults management of `best practices' at Customs

The Customs Service has not managed its systems modernization programs in accordance with "best practices" for deploying information technology, the General Accounting Office reported this month, but the agency still has time to correct its mistakes to ensure these projects succeed.

In a letter to GAO responding to a draft of the May 9 report, Customs deputy commissioner Michael Lane said the agency plans to comply with its recommendations. Agency officials could not be reached for further comment, but GAO noted throughout the report that Customs agreed with its criticisms of the National Customs Automation Program (NCAP) and planned to address them.

The GAO study focused on the Customs Distributed Computing for the Year 2000 (CDC-2000) project, which would replace central mainframe applications with decentralized networks, and on the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), a new system for processing imports that would use this new technology.

GAO said Customs had settled on the hardware for CDC-2000 before redesigning its import procedures and thus risks wasting money.

The report says Customs "does not believe it has wasted its time and resources" on CDC-2000 because $59 million of $63 million spent on the program to date has been used to upgrade and install desktop computers and local-area networks that had to be purchased anyway.

GAO essentially agreed that Customs needed to improve its office equipment but challenged the remaining $4 million in expenditures.

Lane said in his letter that the agency plans to "clarify and document accountability and responsibility" for NCAP. New user requirements for ACE, as well as a security plan, are expected to be completed this summer.

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