November 14, 2016

International traders fear "Single Window" could prove a bottleneck

The long-awaited system for sharing import data among federal agencies is creating problems that could compromise expected efficiency gains, say speakers at CONECT's 2016 Northeast Cargo Symposium.

By Toby Gooley

The U.S government's long-awaited International Trade Data System (ITDS) was supposed to provide a huge boost in productivity by allowing importers to electronically file a single set of data and automatically share it with a host of federal agencies. However, now that implementation is finally underway, international traders are finding the system is actually introducing inefficiencies, and they fear the situation could get worse.

ITDS, also known as the "Single Window" within U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) information system, is designed to replace the patchwork of electronic and manual documents importers must submit to CBP and some four-dozen other federal agencies that have some oversight of U.S. imports. But revisions to software specs by CBP and the initial batch of other agencies—known as participating government agencies, or PGAs—have made it difficult for customs brokers and their software vendors to meet the requirements, said Amy Magnus, director, customs affairs and compliance, for the customs broker A.N. Deringer. Magnus spoke at the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) 15th Annual Northeast Cargo Symposium, held Nov. 10 in Providence, R.I.

Each time there's a change, Magnus said, vendors must reprogram their software; then their broker customers must shut down their systems, update them, and retrain staff. In the "old days," she said, there might be system upgrades "once or twice a year, while this year, I can't even count."

To illustrate, Magnus showed a photo of a 12-inch stack of printouts of Single Window-related software implementation guides. As of August, they totaled 1,481 pages, plus six appendices totaling more than 400 pages. Thirteen government agencies issued more than one update between January and August, according to Magnus.

Adding to the complexity, Magnus said, is that as more electronic messages about import entries include data from PGAs, the number of lines of information customs brokers are receiving in those messages has exploded. Moreover, policy sometimes "seemed to morph" after a programming change, she said.

For example, some importers participating in pilot programs have been surprised to find that while the type of data they must submit for their imported products has changed as expected, the number of products deemed subject to a PGA's oversight has increased as well, she noted.

Fellow panelist Heidi Bray, U.S. and global customs compliance manager for Fiat and Chrysler Automobiles, concurred. Prior to ACE and the Single Window, she said, her company was required to file just three data elements for certain imports with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The required data elements have increased so much, she said, that a formerly seven-line filing is now more than 10 times as long, and it took her team six months to understand, program for, and be able to meet the new reporting requirements.

A "daunting list" of PGAs has yet to implement the Single Window, Magnus said, adding that customs brokers and importers are worried about what will happen if future implementations are anything like their experiences to date.

About the Author

Toby Gooley
Senior Editor
Before joining DC VELOCITY and its sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly, where she serves as Editor, Toby Gooley spent 20 years at Logistics Management covering international trade and transportation as Senior Editor and Managing Editor. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.

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