January 2, 2014

ACE: The end is near—really

After more than a decade of development, a fully functioning Automated Commercial Environment is finally within sight, customs officials say.

By Toby Gooley

After more than a decade of many steps forward and not a few steps back, the long saga of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) may finally be coming to an end. According to CBP officials, the glacial pace of development has picked up considerably, and the comprehensive trade-processing system will be fully functional by the end of 2016.

"We are now making progress—and a lot of it," said Richard F. DiNucci, acting assistant commissioner, Office of International Trade, at the Northeast Cargo Symposium organized by the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) in November.

DiNucci credited the agency's "agile" development methodology, which since early 2013 has set internal multifunctional teams to work on streamlining customs processes and developing automation protocols with input from stakeholders. This largely avoids the many consecutive handoffs and rounds of revisions that characterized the previous software development approach.

Another difference is that more of the work is being done internally instead of by outside consultants and contract developers. "We have been pulling field personnel in to write code," DiNucci said. "They are better able to understand what CBP, importers, and customs brokers need."

Speaking on another panel, former U.S. Customs Commissioner George Weise lauded CBP for exerting greater control over the ACE project and for overcoming such longstanding problems as insufficient funding. CBP has become so self-sufficient in regard to ACE development, said co-panelist Acting Customs Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski, that the agency "will be able to afford ACE without asking Congress for more money."

ACE is extremely complex. It aims to automate not just CBP's excruciatingly complicated import processes but also security risk assessment, export processes, and the collection and distribution of information under the International Trade Data System that connects federal agencies. Ultimately, ACE is expected to become the "single window" for all trade-related transactions involving CBP, other government agencies, and the trade community.

More articles by Toby Gooley

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