Customs funding moves forward

A House Appropriations subcommittee earmarked money Wednesday to keep the

U.S. Customs Service modernization program alive for another year.

Although the amount of money tucked in the fiscal 2001 budget is still up

in the air, funds were included in the $14.4 billion Treasury-Postal spending

bill for fiscal 2001 to begin work on replacing the 17-year-old system — the Automated Commercial System — that regularly breaks down.

The subcommittee approved $233.4 million for Customs computer systems, including

$105 million for the Automated Commercial Environment program. That money

will do little more than fund a feasibility study and begin the project,

but it's a start for a program that importers say is desperately needed

at U.S. borders.

"It certainly is enough to get the program started," said Olga Grkavac,

executive vice president with the Information Technology Association of

America's Enterprise Solutions Division.

Money for the automated system is not guaranteed. It still must face a full

committee and Senate approval before it is signed into law. And the White

House wants importers to pay for the new system through a user fee, instead

of using funds from the general treasury.

Customs officials hope there will be enough money so that they can finally

launch the World Wide Web-based system that would move goods faster and

link border entry points via an intranet. The total cost of the project

is estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion over four years. But if nothing

changes, lawmakers and importers agree that the system will keep crashing

and hurt U.S. trade.

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