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American Shipper

ITDS makes technical progress, still seeks buy-in from agencies

ITDS makes technical progress, still seeks buy-in from agencies

   Industry and government advocates for a single government portal for collecting and disseminating international trade data are pinning their hopes on the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to force foot-dragging agencies to participate in the International Trade Data System.

   As many as 80 federal agencies collect trade information for statistical or regulatory purposes. The lack of a streamlined system means companies often have to resubmit the same data multiple times in multiple formats to different agencies.

   So far only eight agencies are heavily involved in the development of ITDS. The most recent agency to join is the process is the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Controls, said Larry Rosenzweig, who heads the Customs and Border Protection office that is leading the ITDS project. U.S. officials expect another 14 agencies, including the Census Bureau, to sign up this year. The potential number of users could actually number more than 50 because so many agencies are linked to the Census system.

   A coalition of companies and trade groups frustrated by the slow adoption of ITDS sent a letter to the White House in April asking that agencies participate in and help fund ITDS instead of continuing to give it low priority within their information technology budgets. System supporters are now turning their attention to OMB because of the central role it plays in setting agency budgets and policies.

   Government indifference may be a function of the fact “that things like this don’t fall neatly into one stove-piped person at the White House,” said Steward Verdery, assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy and planning.

   The Department of Homeland Security, which depends on commercial trade data to carry out its revenue and security functions, is encouraging OMB to get engaged with the ITDS program office, Sandra Scott, director of international relations at Yellow Roadway Corp., said Friday.

   “It is necessary that DHS and CBP educate OMB to the benefits of e-government processes,” she told a meeting of the Customs’ Bureau’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations. “OMB needs to recognize that this is pre-sold and understand the benefits of a single point of collection.”

   ITDS Chairman Gene Rosengarden reported that participating agencies have agreed on a standard data set that eliminates a lot of redundant information. As more agencies come on board there is less need to modify the data each time now because the system suits everybody’s needs, he added.

   ITDS should help Customs operate more efficiently and target suspicious shipments because all the data that normally is transmitted through separate channels to the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies will be in one place, supporters say. Customs risk assessment officers will have less raw data to sort through and get a better picture of the risk environment by having access to formatted data used by other agencies.

   A better risk assessment system “will also help facilitate trade by not having to look at things they don’t have to look at,” which should speed up decisions about admitting cargo, Rosengarden said.

   Meanwhile, industry supporters plan to step up their campaign for ITDS. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is soon expected to send a letter to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge asking him to use his power to promote ITDS within the government, Scott said. She encouraged the import/export industry to lobby Congress about the importance of ITDS.

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