Customs Service Modernization:

Strategic Information Management Must Be Improved for National Automation Program to Succeed

AIMD-96-57: Published: May 9, 1996. Publicly Released: May 9, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Customs Service's efforts to modernize its automated systems, focusing on: (1) the status and adequacy of Customs' implementation of the National Customs Automation Program (NCAP); and (2) whether Customs is using a best-practices approach to improve mission performance through strategic information management and technology in implementing NCAP.

GAO found that: (1) Customs is redesigning its import process and plans to develop a new automated import system while it enhances its present system to meet NCAP mandates in the interim; (2) the new import process will serve customer needs better and improve operational efficiency and effectiveness; (3) Customs plans to deploy its new import system in October 1998; (4) Customs' modernization efforts are vulnerable to failure because it has not effectively applied best practices to the implementation of its NCAP strategy; (5) Customs selected new systems before it redesigned its key business processes and is not applying specific criteria in assessing projects, alternatives, costs and benefits, and systems architecture; (6) Customs has not managed its new automated system acquisition as an investment nor planned how to incorporate NCAP requirements into it; (7) two contractors' studies have highlighted the weaknesses in Customs' modernization plans and recommended ways to improve its efforts; (8) Customs plans to hire additional contractors to perform the needed modernization analyses, but it also intends to continue with system development and equipment purchases before these analyses are completed; and (9) Customs has not established clear accountability for ensuring that NCAP requirements are successfully implemented.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Prior to additional Customs Distributed Computing for the Year 2000 Project (CDC-2000) equipment purchases (except those for office automation needs) and before beginning to develop any applications software that will run on this equipment, the Commissioner of Customs should assign accountability and responsibility for implementing NCAP.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: United States Customs Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In an April 24, 1996, memorandum, the Commissioner announced that the Trade Compliance Board of Directors was assigned responsibility for implementation of the National Customs Automation Program.

    Recommendation: Prior to additional CDC-2000 equipment purchases (except those for office automation needs) and before beginning to develop any applications software that will run on this equipment, the Commissioner of Customs should ensure that the export and passenger business processes are completed and the requirements generated from these two tasks, along with those of the import process requirements, are used to determine: (1) how Customs should accomplish its mission in the future, including who will perform operations and where they will be performed; (2) what functions must be performed as part of these operations, what information is needed to perform these functions, and where data should be created and processed to produce such information; (3) what alternative processing approaches could be used to satisfy Customs' requirements, and what are the costs, benefits, and risks of each approach; and (4) what processing approach is optimal, and not resume CDC-2000 purchases unless CDC-2000 is determined to be the optimal approach.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: United States Customs Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs initiated development of an enterprise information systems architecture in response to this recommendation. To help develop its architecture, the agency contracted with the Gartner Group for assistance, adopted Treasury's Information System Architecture Framework, and periodically meets with representatives from Treasury's CIO's office. Customs expects to complete the baseline architecture for its six business processes, and its target architecture for two of its six business processes by late 1998. Customs, however, has not yet described its target business operations for all six business processes, defined its interrelated business functions to support these target operations, and fully described its information needs and flows among these functions. GAO's May 1998 report (AIMD-98-70) focused on Customs' architecture development efforts and recommended actions the agency should take to complete its architecture.

    Recommendation: Prior to additional CDC-2000 equipment purchases (except those for office automation needs) and before beginning to develop any applications software that will run on this equipment, the Commissioner of Customs should complete the agency's effort to redefine the role of the systems steering committee to include managing systems as investments as required by the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-130 and information technology investment guide. This effort should include developing and using explicit criteria to guide system development decisions and using the criteria to revisit whether Customs' planned investments, including Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) System and Automated Commercial System enhancements, are appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: United States Customs Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 1997, a contractor delivered to Customs documentation specifying an information technology investment management process that includes criteria for selecting and evaluating investment initiatives. Customs' investment review board (IRB) adopted this process in September 1997 and is implementing this investment management process. Recently, the IRB met to discuss Customs' FY 1999 IT investments and FY 2000 IT initiatives. As part of these meetings, the IRB made some funding decisions about whether projects are to be fully funded, partially funded, or deferred. In addition, the IRB identified some issues for followup on specific projects. The IRB is clearly in the early stages of implementation and Customs officials acknowledge that they will need to continue to modify the process as they gain more experience.

    Recommendation: Prior to additional CDC-2000 equipment purchases (except those for office automation needs) and before beginning to develop any applications software that will run on this equipment, the Commissioner of Customs should direct the steering committee to ensure that all systems being developed strictly adhere to Customs' system development steps. As part of this oversight, before applications are developed for ACE, the steering committee should ensure that Customs resolves how to incorporate NCAP-mandated functions into ACE and prepares a security plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: United States Customs Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 1998, Customs' Office of Information and Technology (OIT) issued a revised System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) Handbook and the Assistant Commissioner, OIT, issued a memorandum requiring that all systems development projects follow the new SDLC Handbook. Additionally, the January 1999 OIT reorganization placed responsibility for SDLC reviews and post-implementation SDLC compliance audits with OIT's program management staff. Further, Customs' information technology investment management process requires compliance with the revised, October 1998 SDLC. In April 1996, Customs' Commissioner specifically assigned responsibility to the Trade Compliance Board of Directors for ensuring that Customs incorporates National Customs Automation Program (NCAP)-mandated functions into ACE. Customs' security office prepared a security plan for ACE and the plan was finalized and approved in mid-1998.

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