Customs unveils export-tracking app

Beginning this week federal agencies that keep track of goods that are exported to other countries will be able to collect more accurate trade statistics through a new software application developed by the Customs Service.

Customs is rolling out nationwide its new Automated Export System which will let traders file their shipping declarations electronically. Although using the system is voluntary federal officials expect it will help exporters streamline their operations and improve government oversight of foreign trade said R. Patricia Morris Customs' marketing manager for AES.

"Many [exporters] have small shipments that are folded into others for consolidation " Morris said. "The pieces of paper get lost. On the government side [AES] will enable us to build a history of information of what's going out of the country."

Since October Customs has been accepting electronically the Shipper's Export Declarations from exporters that use ocean ports. But now traders that ship over land or by air can also use AES. AES is the first stage of an agencywide systems modernization project called the Automated Commercial Environment which is being designed to unite Customs' import and export applications.

Among the federal agencies that will benefit from AES is the Census Bureau which compiles all U.S. trade statistics. Although Census already receives more than half its data on exports electronically AES will cover up to 6 million documents that Customs delivers to Census in paper form.

More timely and complete data will enable Census to calculate more accurately such figures as the U.S. trade deficit said Chuck Woods assistant division chief for data collection and systems with the bureau's Foreign Trade Division. Meanwhile by analyzing AES information Customs will more easily identify shipments that may be illegal Morris said.

AES will allow exporters to use commercial electronic data interchange applications to transmit documents to Customs. As of last week Customs had approved more than a dozen vendors as suppliers of AES software and services to traders according to information on the agency's Web site (www.customs.ustreas.gov/aes). The AES system will support up to 16 000 Customs users when fully operational.

Exporters can file their declarations by dialing directly into AES or over the Internet using a value-added network. Morris said Customs wants to offer direct access to AES through the Internet but the agency first must decide how to handle data security.

Customs receives the data in DB2 format and converts it automatically to Datacom SQL the database format used now by the agency's legacy mainframe systems. Tom Prachar the AES technical development manager with Keane Federal Systems one of the vendors working on AES said the conversion is necessary because Customs wrote most of the code using the Information Engineering Facility computer-aided software engineering tool from Texas Instruments.

"IEF supports DB2 " Prachar said. Because the software development team had only a year to build the application it needed to use a CASE tool and "the IEF tool fit our needs the best " he said. Morris said Customs plans to migrate AES to DB2 this fall.

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