Customs primed for contractor

The U.S. Customs Service expects to seek a prime contractor within the next

six months for its $1.4 billion modernization program, Chief Information

Officer Woody Hall told a gathering of business executives Thursday.

Although Congress has approved the $124 million to get the project off

the ground, Hall said the delay in getting the money flowing earlier this

year would push back completion of the project at U.S. ports of entry until

2006 or later.

"Even if we start today, it will be two years before you see new capacity

in the field," Hall said at the U.S. Customs Trade Symposium. Nevertheless,

he said, with the current allocation soon to be available, the agency would

advertise for a prime contractor in the spring — a move that will jump-start

the project.

Congress has promised the money in the fiscal 2001 budget appropriation,

but that funding has been stalled as a result of political discord on Capitol

Hill. Hall said Customs expects to get the money when the disagreements

are resolved.

Customs officials have been pushing to modernize the 17-year-old Automated

Commercial System. ACS handles each transaction separately, does not provide

access to data at other Customs points and repeatedly breaks down, causing

delays of imports into the United States.

In its place, Customs wants to build the Automated Commercial Environment,

an Internet-based system that can handle a greater volume of imports in

a modular system that can be replaced piece-by-piece if necessary.

"We are poised to take a real step," Customs Commissioner Richard Kelly

told the gathering. "We don't want to build a new system that automates

an old business system. Customs wants to do business the way business does

business."

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