GAO finds ACE flaws

Government Accountability Office report on Automated Commercial Environment Program

A long-term import and export trade processing system, which is also meant to enhance border security, could exceed cost and schedule expectations unless Homeland Security Department officials improve standards, according to a Government Accountability Office review.

So far, DHS officials have largely satisfied the legislative requirements for development of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) program, according to the GAO report. Although department officials have taken steps to address cost and schedule overruns, auditors believe the program will still face problems.

GAO's report indicates that DHS has relaxed quality standards to meet the program’s milestones despite system defects. Fixing those flaws will cost the department in the future.

"Until accountability for ACE is redefined and measured in terms of all types of program commitments — system capabilities, benefits, costs and schedules — the program will likely experience more cost and schedule overruns," the report states.

The report also indicated that Customs and Border Protection officials, who oversee ACE, are meeting and working with other department officials, who manage the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system, to find ways to enhance border security. However, the report said managers should be more proactive in integrating certain components, otherwise delays might cost more money in the future to make the programs interoperable.

ACE is expected to be an advanced information system to efficiently collect, process and analyze commercial import and export data more quickly and cheaply. It would also help border security officials get better information about potential terrorist attacks.

Officials expect to develop and implement ACE in 11 increments during nine years at a cost of $3.3 billion. About $1 billion has been appropriated for the project.

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