By Eric Kulisch
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say that the simplified entry project is helping them come up with necessary requirements for the cargo release functionality scheduled to be programmed in the Automated Commercial Environment.
ACE is the agency’s next-generation system being built to process imports more efficiently, communicate with the trade community, support collection and analysis of commercial trade data, and serve as an information-sharing platform with other federal agencies. Many new efficiency, security and trade facilitation initiatives will depend on ACE to deliver benefits to industry and the government.
More rigorous project oversight and priority-setting under Commissioner Alan Bersin has helped turn around a project that was plagued by misdirection, delays and cost overruns.
CBP has identified cargo release as the next major piece of functionality to be deployed in ACE. It is a top priority because it streamlines and improves the core import and export processes managed by the agency. The automated system, among other things, will enable CBP officers to make quicker and better informed decisions on the disposition of imported cargo; issue electronic notices to hold shipments of concern; expedite the entry process for trusted traders; replace paper processes for many government agencies; and create electronic workflows to facilitate review of shipments required by regulators.
Bersin instructed his staff to make sure that whatever programming was built for simplified entry would also support the ACE delivery, Cindy Allen, executive director of the ACE Business Office in the Office of International Trade, has said.
CBP expended a lot of effort during the past 18 months identifying the business requirements and process flows for releasing cargo that will guide the programming effort. After recently settling on the dozen data elements for simplified entry, project leaders compared how simplified entry fit into cargo release and then identified other release components they could roll out in six-month stages.
“We’re looking at this pilot as being a very small subset of cargo release that we need to achieve overall,” Allen said during the Dec. 7 meeting of the Commercial Operations Advisory Committee.
Next summer CBP plans to take another step by enabling about 40 other government agencies to make decisions about what cargo can come into the United States in a paperless environment. An interagency board last May approved a single, harmonized set of data elements that will be collected from international traders by CBP on behalf of other agencies with jurisdiction over imported products. Allen said the simplified entry program provides the hook for building the technology that will enable other agencies to receive that data from importers and make better risk-management decisions earlier in the shipment cycle.
Expansion of the simplified entry-pilot to the ocean mode will not take place until 60 to 90 days after CBP deploys its new sea/rail advance manifest functionality in ACE, Steve Hilsen, director of trade policy and agreements, said.
The sea/rail manifest release, referred to internally as M1, is scheduled for some time in March. It eventually will be merged with existing electronic truck and air manifest systems to create a single manifest for all modes.
Automated manifest systems enable carriers to electronically transmit manifest data and receive notification of cargo release, as well as make other arrangements for the disposition of the cargo upon arrival.
Driving the new ACE developments is a new mindset among CBP officials that the agency needs to deliver tangible results in increments rather than waiting years until a giant program with all automated tools desired is ready.
That means CBP, with help from its outside developer, is rolling out functions in small chunks and then building upon them to create an integrated suite of applications.
“We’re looking to take this very small pilot and making it into cargo release by adding the complexity” at a later date for transactions such as in-bond and split shipments, Allen said.
“We’re excited that we can do this on a much more cost-effective basis” while delivering tools to the trade and CBP much earlier than under the previous schedule, she added.
The Federal Register
notice designated simplified entry as a National Customs Automation Program test, elevating it to more than a traditional pilot program and giving CBP the ability to look for creative ways to address automation needs, Allen said.
Once each release is working properly CBP will retire the corresponding piece in the legacy Automated Commercial System. Allen said Customs is tentatively eyeing September as the timeframe for turning off sea/rail manifest in ACS and requiring all commercial parties that have not already done so to switch to ACE.