Customs budget bolsters borders

The Bush administration is requesting $313 million for the third year of modernizing the U.S. Customs Service at every border crossing — a 4 percent increase fueled by the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The administration is seeking to speed up completion of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), a $1.3 billion project that will enable Customs to convert to a paperless process for importers and an account-based system for the trade industry. It also will give Customs more tools to find potentially dangerous cargo entering the United States.

"The fight against terrorism has now become the No. 1 priority of the Customs Service," the budget document states. "Customs' budget has been substantially increased in 2002 and 2003 to provide more staffing and technology to further improve border security."

Border control has become one of the most urgent issues in the fight against terrorism. To cope with trade activity that is expected to double by 2005, Customs is modernizing its automation systems and using risk management to target high-risk cargo.

"The number certainly keeps the program going in the right direction. It certainly shows the administration understands and is committed to this program," said Robert Cohen, senior vice president for communications at the Information Technology Association of America.

The overall Customs budget calls for $3.3 billion in fiscal 2003, an increase from $2.8 billion in fiscal 2002. Among its new ideas, the budget calls for increasing several user fees to pay for overtime and related Customs homeland security efforts.

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