Software Development

CBP debuts the latest result of agile development program

image of man and programming code

Customs and Border Protection is using agile software development to incrementally improve its Document Image System. (Stock image)

Customs and Border Protection has rolled out a pilot program to test streamlined document imaging capabilities for federal agencies' inspection paperwork for its automated cargo processing system. The program is a result of CBP's efforts to use faster, more agile development of the system's capabilities.

A CBP notice in the July 23 Federal Register said the agency plans to expand the Document Image System (DIS) pilot in its automated commercial environment (ACE). The expansion will include new partner government agency (PGA) forms, including the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Defense Contract Management Agency; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

"A single point of input for the trade community is a major component of CBP's efforts in trade transformation," CBP Acting Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said in a statement. "With DIS, filers can electronically submit documentation into one location during the importation and exportation process, reducing paperwork costs and allowing for faster, more efficient cargo processing."

With the pilot program, CBP said it hopes to reduce data submission requirements and expand benefits to commercial trade by reducing to single digits the number of data elements required to accompany its electronic forms.

It also hopes to facilitate compliance with all federal requirements by increasing the amount of forms from partner agencies that are eligible for electronic submission via DIS.

In particular, the pilot will allow APHIS, the lead agency looking for invasive or dangerous plant and animal materials at points of entry into the United States, to submit specific forms at the time of their manifest.

CBP has fast-tracked more ACE applications via an agile software development program. Winkowksi said in remarks to trade groups earlier this year that agile software development for ACE would focus on delivering small pieces of functionality within the cargo processing system more quickly.

Winkowski said CBP had developed a plan for the completion of core trade processing capabilities in ACE within approximately three years. "The proposed date for mandatory transition to ACE is at the end of 2016," he said.

Currently, according to a CBP spokeswoman, the agency has four teams working to develop new ACE features.

A team working on automated entry corrections and cancellation features is looking to change the agency's current correction/cancellation process from manual and paper-based to electronic. Once deployed, she said, the feature will eliminate the need to file paper forms for the correction or cancellation of an entry.

A PGA Message Set group is working to consolidate a list of data elements needed by all government agencies to process U.S. imports and exports. CBP, said the spokeswoman, is working with the EPA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service on a PGA Message Set pilot, focused respectively on the importation of ozone depleting substances, vehicles and engines and meat and poultry products.

The Entry Summary Validations team is developing checks on incoming data to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the data being submitted to CBP by the trade community. So far, validations for harbor maintenance fees have been built, tested, and demoed and the validations related to classification are being worked on, she said.

An Automated Export System re-engineering team is looking to rework export processing features in ACE, creating a single automated export processing platform for export commodity, and export control and licensing transactions.

Each of the development teams work in a series of "Sprints" and "Increments." A Sprint is a two-week development cycle, resulting in the building of usable, deployable code. An Increment is a series of six sprints (12 weeks). According to CBP, at the end of each increment, a set of fully developed features is available for deployment. CBP said it is collecting input from stakeholders on a deployment schedule that it plans to publish within the next few weeks.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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