Customs funding clears hurdle

A House appropriations subcommittee earmarked money last week 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

Automated Commercial System, which regularly breaks down.

The House subcommittee approved $233.4 million for Customs computer

systems, including $105 million for the proposed Automated Commercial Environment

program — a World Wide Web-based system that would move goods faster and

link border entry points via an intranet. That money will do little more

than fund a feasibility study and begin the project. The total cost of the

project is estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion over four years.

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

executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's

Enterprise Solutions Division.

Money for the automated system is not guaranteed. The bill still needs

approval by the full House committee and the Senate before it is signed

into law. And the White House wants importers to pay for the new system

via a user fee, instead of using funds from the general treasury.

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