Census puts tracking app on Web

The Census Bureau recently tapped a company to build an Internet-based application to reduce the burden of filing and collecting export information from companies shipping goods out of the country.

The Census Bureau's Foreign Trade Division, which has primary responsibility for collecting, compiling and presenting U.S. export, import and merchandise trade data, awarded a contract to Flagship Customs Services Inc. to build a new World Wide Web interface for the existing Automated Export System in an effort to increase electronic filing.

AES is hosted by the Treasury Department's Customs Service and collects export shipment data that is required by multiple agencies, including Census. However, Census currently receives hundreds of thousands of paper documents that Customs receives from exporters, which must manually be keyed into a database for processing.

The new application will enable shippers to file documents called shippers' export declarations (SEDs) with Census over the Internet. Once the documents are filed with Census, within 15 minutes they will be securely transmitted to AES to be validated and accepted, so there is no need to file twice. Shippers are required to file SEDs for every export shipment from the United States valued at more than $2,500.

The application, which will be offered free of charge starting Oct. 4, will be cheaper and easier for exporters, forwarders and carriers to use and will be more accurate because manual processing will be taken out of the process, said Chuck Woods, assistant division chief for data collection at Census' Foreign Trade Division. The system also will minimize the huge government workload associated with keying in paper documents.

"Right now we still receive 400,000 paper shippers' export declarations every month," Woods said. "It costs [about] 75 cents each to perform a manual data capture of those [documents]. We want to offer this [application] as an alternative filing option."

Meanwhile, Census plans on Dec. 31 to turn off its Automated Export Reporting Program (AERP), which accepts electronic versions of SEDs. The new Internet filing option should motivate people to move to AES, Woods said. "We still receive 520,000 transactions a month via AERP. Those companies still on AERP are in the process of migrating to AES," Woods said.

Still, there is a long way to go. Currently, only about 7 percent of export transactions are filed electronically through AES.

Under its contract, Flagship Customs Services will use its existing Export 2000 gateway service to build a similar service for Census, said Bob Foley, president of the Silver Spring, Md.-based company. "We are the largest filer of shippers' export documents to the Customs Service, based primarily around our Export 2000 service," Foley said.

An Internet option should encourage smaller exporters to file electronically, said Peter Baish, director of outbound programs at Customs. "Sending a document directly into AES from Census would save us all the handling we go through now and probably provide more speed and accuracy. Going electronic is the only way to go," he said.

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