Treasury: Customs system needs time, money

The U.S. Customs Service will have to keep an antiquated system running

on "life support" for at least four years while a new system is phased into

service, Treasury officials told Congress on Tuesday.

Millions of dollars are needed to patch the old system and build the new

one, said James Flyzik, the chief information officer for the Treasury Department,

testifying at a House Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Subcommittee

hearing.

Customs is seeking $12 million this year to begin preliminary work on the

Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) program. Officials also say they

need $123 million this year to keep the aging Automated Commercial System

(ACS) going while the new system is built.

The old system, built in 1984, is experiencing repeated brownouts and blackouts,

slowing the flow of goods at every port in the United States. Its biggest

problem is that it must handle each import individually.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), the subcommittee chairman, said it is urgent to

find a way to pay for Customs modernization because Customs "remains tethered

to processes that are legendary of its traditional way of doing business — transaction by transaction, and in most cases, on paper."

The administration is backing a new system but wants users to pay a fee

to pay for the automated system, expected to cost about $1 billion.

"It will take several years to build it. We'll be spending a lot of money

on it, but it won't be up and operating," said John Simpson, Treasury's

deputy assistant secretary for regulatory, tariff and trade enforcement,

pointing out the need to keep the old system patched up.

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