GAO raps ACE management

Customs Service Modernization: Management Improvements Needed on High-Risk Automated Commercial Environment Project

A critical Customs Service modernization program is in need of better project management, according to a General Accounting Office report released May 13.

The multi-year, multi-billion dollar Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is an import processing system and the first project under Customs' modernization program.

In its report, GAO called ACE a "high-risk endeavor" because of the project's size, complexity and the agency's plan to speed deployment of the system by one year, among other reasons.

Important ACE management controls are not in place in four areas, according to GAO. They are:

* Enterprise architecture — It has not been updated and extended to include ACE engineering tasks.

* Human capital — The Customs Modernization Office is managing ACE, but does not have the people in place to perform critical system acquisition functions.

* Software acquisition management — Customs has not established software acquisition process controls that are recognized as best management practices.

* Cost estimation — Customs has not validated its ACE expenditure plan cost estimates.

GAO made several recommendations to improve ACE management. For instance, it recommended that before building each ACE software release, Customs certify to its House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that the enterprise architecture has been sufficiently extended; and immediately develop and implement a Customs Modernization Office human capital management strategy.

In written response to the report, William Riley, director of Customs' Office of Planning, said the agency will continue to take "prudent steps to address the risks" associated with ACE. Specifically, he said the agency plans to double the size of the Customs Modernization Office, is improving its cost-estimation capability, and is extending the existing enterprise architecture plan to ACE, among other actions.

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