Delay keeps Customs funding in question

The U.S. Customs Service will have to play the waiting game regarding whether

it will receive money in the fiscal 2001 budget for its $1.5 billion modernization

program and funds to keep its current system operating.

A House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday postponed once again its

session on deciding how much money will be in the appropriations bill for

the Treasury Department and related agencies.

Staff aides said the delay had nothing to do with the modernization project

or where to find the money to pay for it.

However, any delay adds uncertainty about whether the money will be available

for the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system to replace the 17-year-old

Automated Commercial System (ACS) that is constantly strained by work overloads.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Treasury, Postal Service and General

Government Subcommittee, said the project is his highest priority.

"We're going to make sure we have sufficient funds in order to make a major

move forward on ACE. It won't be everything we want to have, but it's more

than keeping a finger in the dike," he said in a telephone interview.

Importers have complained that frequent brownouts and blackouts in the system

slow the processing of goods coming across U.S. borders at 300 points. Although

everyone is in agreement that a new system is needed, no one is sure where

to find the money to pay for keeping the old system from dying while the

new system is built during a five-year period.

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