It's been so long since U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began work on its Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) information system that one could be forgiven for assuming the project must have ground to a halt at some point.
But according to Cindy Allen, executive director of CBP's ACE Business Office, the agency continues to press forward with both existing features for ACE and some new ones. Allen provided an update on the decade-old program at the recent Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) Northeast Trade and Transportation Conference held in Newport, R.I.
The ambitious ACE project will do much more than replace the current import processing software, the Automated Commercial System (ACS). According to CBP, ACE will facilitate collection, processing, and analysis of import and export data; allow participants to access and manage trade information via reports; expedite processing of imports and exports; improve communication and collaboration between CBP and the trade community; and provide a platform for government agencies to share trade data.
Most of this happens through the ACE Secure Data POréal, which allows authorized users to review the entry, entry summary, and manifest data. Users can also post information and track or respond to CBP on compliance and operational issues.
Although as of February there were nearly 20,000 ACE accounts—mostly importers, customs brokers, and carriers—just 65 are certified to file entries. More than 147,000 entry summaries were filed via ACE in February alone, Allen said, but that's still just 6.8 percent of the entry summaries that were eligible.
Already in place are pOréal accounts that allow users to get a national view of customs activity for a company as well as for its subsidiaries. More than 125 reports with downloadable data are available, and more than 60 percent of all duties and fees currently are collected via ACE's consolidated monthly payment option. ACE's underlying Entry Summary, Accounts, and Revenue (ESAR) system—the technical "mastermind" that makes an integrated account-based financial and entry summary processing system possible—continues to see significant revisions and additions.
In July 2011, CBP created a link between the ACE POréal and the Importer Security Filing program (popularly known as "10+2"). Users can now access some ISF reports and updates they had been receiving by e-mail, and transaction-reporting capabilities are on the way.
CBP's number one ACE priority, Allen said, is to extend to ocean and rail the electronic manifest filing function that's already in place—and which is mandatory—for truckers at all land borders. Testing for those modes began in late 2011, and CBP plans to have all rail and ocean carriers electronically filing via ACE by the end of September.
ACE's newest program, which is called "simplified entry," is generating a high level of interest, according to Allen. Its objective is to streamline the amount of data required to obtain the release of import cargo and allow users to file one set of data for all customs purposes rather than multiple transactions. Instead of the lengthy CBP Form 3461 entry summary, filers would submit 12 required and three optional data elements—most of them the same elements as the ISF, plus an expanded Harmonized Tariff System classification, an entry number, and an estimated shipment value.
Simplified entry for air cargo is now being piloted with nine customs brokers. According to Allen, progress will be assessed after a 90-day test. If CBP and the trade believe the test has been successful, then the agency will add ocean imports to the pilot, she said.
Though technical problems continue to challenge ACE programmers, Allen said many of the glitches are related to the old ACS system, and she promised "lots of fixes in the next six to eight months."
Allen also suggested that current and potential users check www.cbp.gov/modernization for monthly ACE updates and training materials.