Officials push ACE for Homeland

Officials planning the new Homeland Security Department are considering expanding the Customs Service modernization system to use in the multi-agency fight against terrorism.

The multibillion-dollar program — the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) -- was designed to put Customs on one unified network connecting every U.S. border and port entry point. But now, officials are considering expanding the project so it could be shared with other agencies that would become part of the new department.

"While this was sized for Customs in mind, some of the capacity could be shared," said S.W. "Woody" Hall, the chief information officer for Customs. "The infrastructure piece can be used for anything.... The savings comes from everyone deciding to do it the same way and to build off the same base."

Officials from the 22 agencies that would become part of the new department are meeting weekly at the Office of Homeland Security to come up with plans for the agency, whose creation still must be approved by Congress.

Early in the process, Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner began pushing the idea of sharing his agency's database and infrastructure with the new department, Hall said.

For example, Hall said, ACE will be able to receive the manifests from ships as they depart from overseas ports, and Customs inspectors will be able to look for irregularities.

But the same system could be used by the Transportation Security Administration, which wants airlines to transmit their lists of passengers flying to the United States from overseas.

"We're trying to anticipate the creation of a department and to cooperate voluntarily so if we do create a new department, we are ready to go.... If the department doesn't come to pass, we've improved our ability to communicate," Hall said.

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