Customs taking system down for tune-up

The U.S. Customs Service's Automated Commercial System gets a makeover thisweekend — scheduled after Valentine's Day so it would not delay the importationof flowers and break any hearts.

Customs will take ACS off-line for 12 to 15 hours on Feb. 17 to installa redesigned system that prevents duplication of invoices detailing thecontents of shipments arriving in the United States from foreign ports.The agency also will fix dozens of other problems with the 17-year-old system.

Jerry Russomano, director of the software development division at Customs,said officials scheduled the maintenance for the three-day Presidents' Dayweekend, adding that the agency decided to wait until after Valentine'sDay because of the large number of imported flowers arriving from foreignports.

"There are lots of flowers coming in on airplanes this week," Russomanosaid. "And we wanted to avoid the high volume if there were any problemsor issues that came up during the time when operations" were down.

Implementing the restructured system requires the conversion of about20 databases, including some containing more than 100 million records.

To install the redesigned system and minimize disruption of trafficacross the borders, Customs workers conducted two full dress rehearsalssimulating the installation and have been testing the system for the past10 months.

But Customs is also carrying out a variety of maneuvers to keep ACSworking. Congress has appropriated $123 million this year to keep ACS afloat,but also has earmarked $130 million this year to build a new system knownas the Automated Commercial Environment. Customs is expected to award theprime contract this spring for the modernization program, which is expectedto cost at least $1 billion and take five years to complete.

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