GAO seeks ACE improvement

Information Technology: Customs Has Made Progress on Automated Commercial Environment System, but It

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The Homeland Security Department needs to set realistic objectives and rethink its development approach regarding a multibillion dollar trade processing system, according to a Government Accountability Office review.

GAO first began to analyze the planned Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) in 2002, about a year after the modernization effort was launched. Past reviews have called for improved project management. In its latest report on ACE, released May 31, GAO credited DHS for making progress on past recommendations, but indicated areas of continuing concern.

The report makes several observations regarding “the need to effectively set and use performance goals and measures on ACE.” GAO acknowledged that the program set performance goals but contended that the targets were not always realistic.

The report cites the program’s fiscal 2005 goal of having 11 percent of all Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency employees use ACE, noting that the target failed to take into account the fact that many CBP employees will never need to use the system.

In addition, the GAO report holds that the relationships among the program’s six program goals, 11 business results, 23 benefits and 17 performance measures are “not fully defined or adequately aligned with each other.”

GAO also took issue with DHS’ plan to develop ACE in several concurrent releases. In the past, concurrent releases “led to cost overruns and schedule delays because releases contended for the same resources,” the report states.

DHS’ belief in concurrent development as a means for speeding the delivery of ACE functionality is reintroducing the earlier problems, the report states. GAO recommends that DHS minimize the concurrent development of ACE releases.

On the plus side, DHS completed two of GAO’s earlier recommendations. Those involved comparing program cost estimates with independent costs estimates and describing roles for the government and prime contractor in the ACE program. IBM was awarded the modernization prime contract in April 2001.

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