Customs picks IBM as prime

Customs modernization request for proposals

The U.S. Customs Service, marking a significant milestone in its efforts to modernize its antiquated trade systems, awarded the prime contract for the $1.4 billion project to IBM Corp.

Today's announcement is the latest step in the Customs' plans to build the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), which will replace the 17-year-old Automated Commercial System (ACS).

IBM won out over Accenture and Electronic Data Systems Corp., which also had been vying for the contract.

Major subcontractors in the e-Customs Partnership led by IBM Global Services include Lockheed Martin Mission Systems, KPMG Consulting LLC, Computer Sciences Corp. and Sandler & Travis Trade Advisory Services Inc.

Experts suggest that the modernization plan is the only way Customs will be able to deal with the increasing volume of international trade, which is projected to double by 2005. Few expect an increase in the Customs Service's 15,000-person workforce.

Customs officials announced the ACE contract award at a press conference today after spending much of the week getting the General Accounting Office and congressional appropriators to free $45 million in fiscal 2001 funds to use to kick off the modernization project.

Like the IRS, Customs modernization money is put in a separate account and can be spent after the agency gets approval from Treasury Department officials, GAO and congressional appropriators.

Industry groups had been pushing for funding to replace ACS, which has become susceptible to brownouts and delaying shipments of imported goods at U.S. ports and border crossings. Customs handles 18 million to 19 million cargo summaries per year, representing $1 trillion worth of commerce and collecting $22 billion in duties each year — the federal government's second-largest revenue source.

The modernization project still faces some significant hurdles. Agency officials have said such large projects are risky. And industry officials said last week that the Bush administration has not allocated enough money to roll out the new system efficiently and effectively.

President Bush has proposed $130 million for ACE for fiscal 2002, a figure that the business leaders calculate would stretch implementation of the system across 14 years.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine,, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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