Truck e-manifest system operates smoothly after big hiccup
Trucking industry representatives are crediting U.S. Customs and Border Protection for quickly correcting a technical problem that led to substantial shipment delays last Thursday as rules for mandatory filing of electronic cargo manifests went into effect in three Western states.
Mandatory e-manifest began Jan. 25 under a phased rollout for truckers entering the United States through land ports in Washington, Arizona and the North Dakota ports of Pembina, Neche, Walhalla, Maida, Hannah, Sarles and Hansboro. Truckers must file their cargo lists through an electronic data interchange system or a secure Web portal at least one hour prior to arrival at the border. Motor carriers crossing into California, Texas and New Mexico will begin the transition to all electronic filing beginning in April.
The change is being done to eliminate inefficient manual processing of paper documents at the border checkpoint so that officers can quickly pre-clear shipments that do not pose any security risk. The automated truck manifest is a module in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system that is being developed to modernize Customs activities.
A problem with ACE software that communicates with the transmission line provider caused a glitch last week at the same time that CBP was receiving large batches of e-manifests, Lou Samenfink, executive director of the Cargo Systems Program Office, said on the sidelines of the American Association of Exporters and Importers conference in New Orleans this week. He attributed the situation to oversight by a technician who failed to make a necessary change during a regular program update.
Carriers did not get messages back from CBP telling them they could move their trucks to the border and communication between the ports of entry and the main processing center in Virginia was slow.
'There was a network problem that coincided with this mandatory date that didn't have anything to do with the volume of transactions,' Samenfink said.
More than 90 percent of the 1,200 trucks that arrived at the Blaine, Wash., port of entry that day filed their manifests through the ACE system, he said. Every one of the 463 trucks that crossed in to Sumas, Wash., had an electronic manifest. At Pembina, N.D., e-manifest compliance was about 50 percent and adoption was also lower in Nogales, Ariz., and other points in the state.
Trucking industry professionals said some delays at the border lasted six hours or more as ports relied on fallback procedures for processing truck traffic. Samenfink did not have overall figures, but said one e-mail indicated a truck was delayed eight to nine hours and missed its delivery window.
'CBP got right on it. It was much better the next day,' said Sandra Scott, a former YellowRoadway (now YRC Worldwide) official who now heads her own cross-border logistics consulting firm, SASync Borders. 'They reacted very quickly.'
Some large carriers that normally rely on EDI transmissions worked around the problem by checking the ACE truck manifest portal to learn the status of their shipments, Samenfink said.
Other major carriers using EDI 'made a big mistake' because they never applied for access to the ACE portal, which would have come in handy as a back up communications tool, Margaret Irwin, director of customs, immigration and cross-border operations at the American Trucking Associations, said.
The ACE truck-manifest portal was primarily designed for smaller carriers interested in manually entering their cargo information through the Web site.
Compliance is also being phased in to help truckers transition to the new way of business at the border. CBP is in an educational period during which officers notify truckers that they failed to meet the requirement and instruct them how to electronically file or hire a vendor to do it for them. In the second phase, CBP will deny entry to any carrier that arrives without submitting or attempting to submit an e-manifest at land border ports where e-manifest submissions are required. When full enforcement kicks in CBP may also issue monetary penalties for egregious or repetitive violations.
E-manifest filing has been voluntary for nearly two years as CBP tested the system region by region. Testing will continue in other parts of the country even as the mandatory system is established in other zones.
Samenfink said he was discouraged by the technical glitch because it clouds the fact that e-manifest filings grew from 8,000 to 11,000 nationwide during the three-week period prior to the deadline and the system had been running smoothly. System response for officers at the border is fast now and there are fewer cases in which carriers do not receive a response telling them they are cleared to proceed to the border. CBP will conduct a root cause analysis of the breakdown to prevent a similar failure in the future, he said.
Since the pilot program began in 2005, CBP has received more than 100,000 electronic shipment statements, although the number is a fraction of the overall cross-border truck traffic.
Even the limited volumes during the voluntary participation period has helped reduce processing time for all trucks, Samenfink said. Preliminary results of traffic flow analysis at the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, for example, indicate trucks are moving through the checkpoint 25 to 30 seconds faster than before electronic manifest was available.
Samenfink said the border management agency continues to have issues matching trip arrivals in the automated manifest system (AMS) with the shipment control number used to file customs entries in the Automated Commercial System. Customs brokers rely on ACS messages with that number from CBP notifying them that their truck has been released and they need to file an entry summary in 10 days. The interfaces between ACE and ACS still need to be ironed out so the broker knows to file an entry, he acknowledged.
'We’re on the right track, but it’s still a learning experience,' Irwin said.