CBP abruptly terminates test of e-manifest
After three weeks of field tests, U.S. Customs and Border Protection pulled the plug Monday on a program designed to capture electronic manifest data transmissions from commercial vehicles crossing the border.
In a notice to importers, customs brokers and motor carriers, the CBP office in Blaine, Wash., said it had shut down the electronic truck manifest pilot test that began Dec. 11 to process truck cargo data through the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) computer system currently under construction.
“The expectation is that in the future, after system enhancements, the ACE electronic truck manifest will return to Blaine for a second ‘pilot’ test,” Jay Brandt, assistant port director, said in the notice obtained by Shipper’s NewsWire. No reasons for the postponement were given, but several industry sources said the system was plagued with technical problems in the short period it was operating.
“They realized the test was not going quite as well as we had hoped, and for this program to be effective it is going to require a lot more changes and software fixes before customs rolls it out to different ports,” said Mark Johnson, president of McClary, Swift & Co. – Blaine Inc. “It was a wise decision on Customs’ part to recognize that.”
A local CBP spokesman directed inquires to CBP headquarters, but no one could be reached after normal business hours.
Blaine was the first border checkpoint to test the ability of motor carriers to automatically transmit truck manifest data and obtain release of their cargo, driver and equipment via the ACE portal or electronic data interchange messaging. In the first week of the test, CBP officers processed 6,279 trucks via the secure ACE portal, according to the December issue of CBP’s “Modernization” newsletter.
The truck manifest is supposed to speed up processing at the border by eliminating the use of paper documents and allowing CBP to automatically match up the truck manifest with the customs entry filed by a broker ahead of arrival. But the new system proved so labor intensive that it caused four to five-hour backups during the first few days of testing, according to Johnson and other sources.
Johnson said that to the best of his knowledge there was only one trucking company that had a working Automated Manifest System account. Other trucking companies have applied for program but haven’t gone through training to be certified to use the program. That meant Customs personnel at the border were forced to key in the manifest data for the trucks.
Johnson and other customs brokers said the electronic truck manifest actually requires more data elements than there are on a normal customs entry, leading to delays for data entry.
CBP made a big effort to reduce the wait times by cutting back on the some of the data entry when it recognized testing was causing unacceptable delays, he said.
“They didn’t have that many carriers signed up (and prepared) for the actual test. They wouldn’t be able to tell how effective this would be. If they only had one or two results the test wouldn’t be significant,” Johnson said. “I think they realized there were a lot of problems that they hadn’t anticipated.”
Problems have occurred when converting BRASS (an expedited cargo processing program) entry data from the old Automated Commercial System to the new ACE. The process often creates duplicate entry numbers for the same shipment or assigns one entry number to multiple shipments. The system also assigned different release dates than the brokers automated transmission system for cargo being released under the Pre-Arrival Processing System
Johnson, who also is a board member of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America and the Northern Border Customs Brokers Association, said he welcomed the postponement because truckers and brokers are still learning to cope with three major changes to customs procedures ' advance manifest transmissions, ultimate consignee information and classifying low-value shipments — within the past two months.
“To throw in a brand new system at the same time, I didn’t think the timing was appropriate to begin with,” Johnson said.
Under a three-phase implementation process that began Nov. 15, CBP is requiring motor carriers to pre-file manifest data about their cargo before arrival at a U.S. port of entry so analysts can identify loads with potential criminal or terrorist connections. Congress mandated the collection of advance collection of inbound and outbound cargo information by electronic means for all modes of transportation for homeland security purposes. The final group of land ports is scheduled to begin accepting advance cargo transmissions on Jan. 14.
Under the new rule, truckers will no longer be able to show up at the border and hand over paper shipping documents. However, since there is no automated data exchange system for trucks in the Automated Commercial System, motor carriers have to use electronic transmission systems originally set up for other purposes. Truckers can rely on customs brokers to file their manifest information on their behalf through the Automated Broker Interface as part of the barcode-based Pre-Arrival Processing System and in-bond reporting systems.
The change has caused a lot of confusion for truckers about where and how far in advance to submit their paperwork, according to trucking industry sources. Normally, there is not a lot of communication between the carrier and the broker because the broker works directly for the importer. The problem with the current system that has been cobbled together until the electronic manifest is developed is that there is no available form of electronic messaging for the broker to notify the driver that the customs entry has been filed and that he can proceed to the CBP checkpoint.
“The trucker faxes his forms to the broker and then it falls into a black hole,” said a trucking industry source. Instead of submitting the information one hour (or 30 minutes in some cases) in advance of arrival at the border, as the law requires, some brokers are telling truckers they need the information three to five hours earlier so they can process it through their system to CBP.
Other changes on the border went into effect in October. That is when CBP began requiring importers or their designated agents to supply the Internal Revenue Service tax number (or Social Security number for individuals) of the ultimate consignee in the United States. The move is part of a wide-ranging CBP effort to crack down on accurate reporting of import details to help agents analyze commercial trade data for potential threats associated with shipments. Previously, brokers and importers could just transmit the name and address of the consignee if the federal tax ID number was not available.
The change has caused a significant increase the brokers’ workload to research the ID number for each consignee. Complicating the effort is the fact that American companies are often reluctant to give out their tax number to a broker with whom they have no business relationship since the broker’s client is the foreign shipper.
In October, CBP also changed its long-standing practice of not having to report line by line on the Customs entry form each shipment valued under $2,000. Under the new policy, importers must report all shipments of merchandise regardless of value in order to secure the release of their goods. The change is also increasing workloads for brokers who are having to enter all the extra data.
The electronic manifest will eventually give carriers control over their own destiny. It is also designed to give inspectors the ability to see all entry data from different release programs for all the shipments on the truck in one integrated screen without having to toggle back and forth between different screens and different computer systems to check compliance with customs rules.
“They recognized the limitation of this. They’ve got enough (lessons) to work on to fix these major things and then they can re-test with a better system and in the meantime they will have more carriers signed up for this and then maybe it will give a better representation in the real world once it gets going,' Johnson said.