Customs expands anti-terror training

Customs modernization request for proposals

The Customs Service has expanded anti-terrorism training for all of its officers and is intensifying its call for enough funding to complete its modernization program in four years or less, instead of five years as originally planned.

Customs' Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), a Web-based system to process import data, "is more important now than ever before," said Charles Armstrong, executive director of the Customs Modernization Office, speaking at a trade industry symposium the service held Nov. 27 in Washington, D.C. "This is not time for a pregnant pause. We need to go out there and get this thing done."

Congress recently approved $300 million for ACE in fiscal 2002 -- $170 million more than President Bush had requested for the program. There are concerns, however, about whether Congress will continue to provide that level of funding each year for the new system, which will replace Customs' 17-year-old Automated Commercial System.

Although ACE is designed to track cargo, not people, it will play a crucial security role by providing information on the movement of materials that could be used in terrorist acts, Armstrong and other Customs officials said at the conference.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Customs officers began intensive training in recognizing individual weapons of mass destruction and the "precursor" chemicals and biological materials that are used to make them, said Ira Reese, acting director of Laboratories and Scientific Services, Customs' forensic division.

"We took the anti-terrorism portion out of our training program and expanded it. Now we're giving [the officers] some real heavy-duty information," he said.

Customs officials also have moved some mobile labs to border checkpoints so shipments of chemicals and biological materials can be sampled and analyzed before they cross into the United States.

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