Senate panel nixes Customs upgrade funding

The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday denied funding for a massive Customs Service modernization program.

The agency had asked for $8 million to begin fielding its $1 billion-plus Automated Commercial Environment next year, plus $163 million for fiscal 2001 that would have been funded through a controversial user fee. ACE would speed up cargo clearance and examination procedures for the $1 trillion worth of goods coming into the United States every year. Customs has been using a prototype of the ACE system at select ports and wants to roll it out nationwide over the next four years.

ACE would replace Customs' aging Automated Commercial System, which last year processed 19 million trade entries—10 percent more than the previous year. Customs uses ACS to collect data from importers about what they are bringing across U.S. borders. The data is used to assess whether the shipments need to be inspected and to collect tariffs. In most cases, this information is filed when, or shortly before, goods enter the country.

In its report on the Treasury, Postal Service and General Government appropriations bill, the panel said it had not received a "solid cost/benefit analysis" for the ACE project. The committee instead earmarked $67 million to maintain Customs' aging ACS and asked for quarterly reports on that system's status while the follow-on is being planned.

The House Appropriations Committee has yet to take up its version of the bill, although a subcommittee approved a draft last month.

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