GAO raps Customs program

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

A critical Customs Service modernization program is suffering from weak project management, according to a General Accounting Office report released last week.

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

In a May 13 report, GAO called ACE a "high-risk endeavor" because of the project's size and complexity and the agency's plan to speed deployment of the system by one year, among other reasons.

GAO noted ACE management weaknesses. For instance, the agency's enterprise architecture has not been updated and extended to include ACE engineering tasks, the report said. Also, the Customs Modernization Office lacks the people it needs, and the agency has not established adequate software acquisition controls.

GAO made several recommendations to improve ACE management. For example, the report recommended that before building each ACE software release, Customs should certify that the enterprise architecture has been sufficiently extended.

Improvements are in the works, said Charles Armstrong, executive director of the Customs Modernization Office. "Customs is taking the appropriate steps to manage risks associated with the complexity of the program," he said. "These steps include the doubling of the size of the program office, balancing the extension of the enterprise architecture with associated risks, refinement and improving cost estimating," and using Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model level 2 management tool.

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