Customs' ACE gets Capitol Hill lift

House Appropriations report

Congress plans to provide the Customs Service with at least $170 million more for its five-year modernization program in fiscal 2002 than President Bush requested. Customs' Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is a Web-based system to handle information on imports. The agency awarded the $1.3 billion Customs Modernization Prime Integration Contract to IBM Corp. in April. It will include replacing the 17-year-old Automated Commercial System (ACS).

The administration's request for fiscal 2002 did not increase the current year's funding, but the House's addition of $170 million would bring the total funding for the program up to $300 million. It is intended to provide "ample resources to begin making a significant impact on Customs processes at critical, high-volume ports of entry," according to a House Appropriations Committee report released July 17.

The committee expressed concern that the administration's smaller budget request would delay the project and increase the possibility that it would fail.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the Treasury/U.S. Postal Service appropriations bill July 26, but that report is not yet available.

The Senate increased funding by about $100 million over the administration's request, according to Sam Banks, a former acting Customs commissioner who is now director of Customs work for Sandler & Travis Trade Advisory Services Inc., an ACE subcontractor.

Industry groups and ACS users lobbied hard for Congress to fund the ACE program, and it has paid off, said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America.

"When you do a major education effort, this shows that the message is received," she said.

Christopher J. Dorobek contributed to this report.

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