Customs project reaches CMM milestone

The ambitious customs modernization program that will automate the nation's trade processing system reached an important milestone this week in its acquisition and management practices.

The project, widely known as the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), was given a Level 2 designation under the Capability Maturity Model for Software (CMM). Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute developed the designation that judges the maturity of the project's software processes.

"It's a significant accomplishment," said Randy Hite, the General Accounting Office director for information technology architecture and systems Issues. "It is certainly one arrow in the quiver to position yourself and be able to manage a large-scale modernization."

GAO officials have repeatedly recommended that the project should meet the CMM standards to help the former U.S. Customs Service, now the Customs and Border Protection Bureau in the Homeland Security Department, manage the multibillion dollar acquisition.

One government official who has been watching the process said the designation is a "benchmark by which any organization's acquisition management capabilities can be evaluated. It also represents a roadmap for management process improvement."

When fully implemented, ACE is supposed to provide a more efficient movement of trade and strengthen border security operations. It will include a single system interface between the trade community and the federal government.

ACE's secure data portal recently went operational. It allows 41 trade participants, representing 17 percent of the total trade volume imported to the United States, to view their information on a Web site. The system expects to have 100 trade partners on the system next year.

The ACE contract was awarded in 2001 to IBM Global Services Inc. and its subcontractors. The five-year, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract is worth more than $1 billion.

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