Customs: User fees should fund modernization

For the second year in a row, President Clinton has proposed funding the U.S. Customs Service modernization program with user fees, and once again the plan faces an uphill battle in Congress.

The fiscal 2000 budget for the Treasury Department would pay for the deployment of Customs' $1.4 billion Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) with fees paid by importers and exporters who use the system. The proposed fees would raise $163 million that would be spent in fiscal 2001.

But Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee's Trade Subcommittee, said he is "troubled" by the proposal. "The administration appears to exclude the trade community as a partner in defining the needs, goals and costs of the Customs automated systems," said Crane, who blocked a similar plan last year. Customs has consulted the trade community on various aspects of its modernization plan, but the industry is opposed to paying fees to use the new systems.

Meanwhile, Customs is asking for $8 million in direct funding next year to begin fielding ACE. Treasury would spend $5.4 million next year, about the same as the current budget, to develop the International Trade Data System, a database of trade information that would be shared among dozens of agencies that regulate imports. But next year, the funds would come from increasing inspection fees paid by travelers entering the United States.

President Clinton also plans to submit legislation this year to designate the U.S. Mint as a Performance-Based Organization, which would give the agency some exemptions from hiring, compensation and procurement rules to help it meet performance goals. Last year, the Mint deployed new enterprise resource planning software in part to prepare for becoming a PBO.Other Treasury budget proposals include:

$200 million to run the Treasury Communications System, the department's national data network.

$15 million for digital wireless radio equipment. The funds are part of a $149 million budget to expand deployment of the radios, which are designed to interoperate with those used by state and local law enforcement officials.

Saving $16 million by making 75 percent of Financial Management Service payments electronically—$3 million more than last year, when FMS eliminated 68.5 percent of its paper checks.

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