ACE ocean, rail manifest faces delay
• e-Truck manifest now available at all border crossings
• CBP faces challenge to prepare industry for ACE
U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to delay by at least six months deployment of a new cargo manifest processing system expected to help improve cargo flows, according to Louis Samenfink, executive director of the cargo systems program office.
The agency was scheduled to roll out in mid-to-late October the electronic manifest function for ocean and rail carriers as part of the $3.3 billion build-out of its Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), the information technology system being developed to replace existing programs that monitor, control and expedite commercial imports and exports.
That timetable has now been pushed to April 2009 at the earliest in order to fix significant software bugs and allow sufficient time for external testing by the trade to make sure commercial systems are compatible with the system’s new data requirements and messaging, Samenfink told American Shipper.
“We built it, but it’s just not working the way we intended. It’s better than throwing it out there and having it blow up in October,” he said. “We simply can’t risk deploying something at the ports and railheads that doesn’t work properly.”
The M1 release, as it’s referred to within CBP, should be up and running no later than June, under the worst-case scenario, Samenfink said.
Another factor contributing to the delay has been the addition of new requirements to the project, CBP said in an e-mail message to members of the trade community and other government organizations. Agency officials originally intended to transfer the manifest programs to ACE without much additional functionality, but there is increasing pressure to add more data fields and content for security purposes, according to industry experts close to the program. Meanwhile, the border agency has its hands full trying to develop final technical specifications and policies for its ambitious “10+2” security-filing proposal that will affect importers, carriers and logistics providers, as well as managing the high-profile Secure Border Initiative to deal with illegal immigration.
System performance is especially critical this time because CBP will turn off the ocean and rail automated manifest programs in its existing Automated Commercial System and switch to the new Automated Manifest System in ACE.
Carriers use AMS to file advance declarations of their international containers and cargo contents, which CBP then compares against terrorist watch lists and risk profiles to determine which containers to inspect by non-intrusive or physical means at foreign or U.S. ports. AMS is also the pipeline the agency uses to communicate back to carriers, terminal operators and customs brokers about which containers need to be detained and which are cleared to enter commerce.
CBP initiated its e-truck manifest program in fits and starts, taking it down periodically for repairs when glitches occurred, and rolling it out gradually to land ports in 2005 and 2006. But Samenfink said that was a new system and the same approach is not possible when transferring an existing system to ACE.
Industry officials who collaborate on ACE do not like program delays, but understand the complexity of the project and say they prefer CBP take its time to get the system right rather than rush it out and have failures cause havoc with their business operations. Accuracy is important because some data used in the manifest system is also shared with booking, gate management, documentation, logistics and other systems carriers use to handle customer transactions and move containers through their networks.
Samenfink said the delays would have a ripple effect on air and truck manifest programs because programmers who would work on those systems are preoccupied with the vessel and rail functionality. The most recent prior schedule called for an air manifest rollout in ACE by the second quarter of 2009 and a full multimodal manifest sometime in the fourth quarter of next year.
As a result of the M1 schedule slip, an additional four to six month delay is projected for the early 2009 deployment of initial ACE entry summary capabilities, according to the CBP e-mail message.
“CBP is in the process of determining the impact these delays will have on the entire ACE schedule. CBP senior management has ordered an independent review of ACE to ensure that everything possible is being done to continue the successful deployment of new capabilities. In the near future, a new ACE release schedule will be published. This schedule will show that the Cargo Release portion of ACE has been moved to a higher priority,” the message said.
Industry experts familiar with ACE say the new ocean and rail manifest functions will help ease some cargo congestion by allowing CBP to indicate a hold on a single container rather than an entire group of containers that are listed under the same bill of lading as one targeted for inspection. ' Eric Kulisch