Fits and starts characterize progress on truck manifest
National motor carrier ABF Freight System Inc. successfully filed its second electronic manifest to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and crossed its load at the Blaine, Wash., port of entry Tuesday as part of CBP's fledgling pilot test to automate transmission of cargo data by truckers, said Louis Samenfink, executive director of the agency's Modernization Office.
Samenfink confirmed ABF became the first carrier to file an electronic data interchange message containing the manifest data and receive clearance on March 11, as reported Wednesday by Shippers' News Wire.
He said a scheduled test by UPS this week was postponed because there are still problems accepting messages from UPS's system.
Another successful test occurred this week when Brown Lines, a local trucking outfit, filed its first manifest without any hitches, Samenfink said. Brown Lines uses the alternative Web-based portal designed for smaller carriers to enter manifest data into the Customs system. Brown, the only approved carrier for the portal, has previously filed manifests but in each case experienced some type of transmission problem, Samenfink explained to a reporter during the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America conference in San Diego.
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 carrier or broker ahead of time. It is designed to give inspectors the ability to see all entry data from seven 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.
The e-truck manifest is being developed in conjunction with the Automated Commercial Environment, CBP's project to build an Internet-based computer system for processing imports.
The truck manifest is a top priority because trucks are the only mode for which an automated data collection system does not exist. Until the manifest is ready CBP must relying on a jerry-rigged system that relies on entry information filed by customs brokers to provide the advance cargo data the agency needs for screening high-risk shipments.
Despite the recent positive developments, the scope of the e-manifest pilot is very limited so far because there are only four carriers certified to transmit data since the pilot program began Dec. 11. CBP shut down the test for the month of January to correct technical problems.
Samenfink acknowledged the e-manifest has gotten off to a 'very slow start,' but was giddy about the potential for the pre-filing system to speed up truck processing at the border, especially when combined with the automated identification of vehicles through the Free and Secure Trade Lanes expedited clearance programs. Beyond serving as electronic license plates, transponders on participating trucks could also be used for electronically collecting user fees at land borders, Samenfink said.
A major bank under contract with CBP to manage the transponders for the FAST program is working on building that capability so that truckers don't waste time paying $5 cash for each crossing.
'Then guys in the booth aren't going to be fumbling around for change' or have to reconcile their cash register at the end of each shift, Samenfink said.
He said it could take CBP up to 18 months to make necessary programming changes and have the system in place nationwide.
Plans to expand the automated truck manifest test to seven other sites were put on hold after the difficulties in Blaine became clear.
Samenfink said CBP hopes to be able to expand the e-manifest test to other ports next month if the system proves robust. A small port near Blaine will likely be the next candidate for the pilot test, according to a trucking industry source who has been briefed by CBP on the subject. CBP's new strategy is to expand the program to clusters of ports rather than scattering test sites across the nation. The agency wants to open up a large port with more truck volume by Labor Day, the trucking executive said.