Automated Export System:

Prospects for Improving Data Collection and Enforcement Are Uncertain

NSIAD-98-5: Published: Nov 14, 1997. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the potential impact of the Customs Service's Automated Export System (AES) and the views of the export community regarding AES, focusing on whether AES is likely to achieve its objectives of improving export data, enhancing enforcement efforts, and streamlining export data collection.

GAO noted that: (1) it is not yet clear what benefits will result from the use of AES because many critical implementation issues remain unsolved; (2) although AES has the potential to improve export reporting and enhance enforcement efforts, it is unlikely to achieve these objectives unless more exporters are willing to participate and limitations that prevent other agencies from fully using the system are resolved; (3) concerning the trade community's limited participation, GAO found that: (a) only a small fraction of the export community is using AES; (b) most exporting companies responding to GAO's survey are not likely to use AES over the next 3 years; and (c) twenty-five percent of all U.S. ocean freight forwarders had not heard of AES; (4) benefits cited by companies using AES include automated filing, reduced paperwork, personnel, and administrative costs, participating in the initial development of AES, and filing all data at a central filing point; (5) some segments of the trade community contend that the predeparture filing requirement is inconsistent with their business practices and costly; (6) AES is designed to help target illegal shipments, identify high-risk shipments, and compile exporter histories; (7) the system's usefulness as an enforcement tool is limited because: (a) it is not linked with the databases of other law enforcement agencies; (b) a proposal to allow exporters to file data after shipment could undermine efforts to detect export violations; (c) AES allows export data to be transmitted only hours before a shipment departure, which may not provide sufficient time to target possible illegal shipments; and (d) many Customs inspectors anticipate that illegal exporters are unlikely to use AES to file their export data; (8) AES faces limitations in achieving its goal to create a single information collection and processing center for the electronic filing of required export documentation; (9) many export-related agencies are subject to existing regulations requiring them to retain their own licensing procedures and have requirements that will not be satisfied through AES; (10) Customs is attempting to resolve these issues through several means; and (11) a cost-benefit analysis is needed to determine how or whether to proceed with implementation of AES.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs and Census have substantially implemented the recommendation to take concrete actions to improve AES; as a result, they have succeeded in increasing the level of exporter participation in the system which GAO cited as being critical to meeting program objectives. For example, in June 1999, the two agencies changed their regulations to allow exporters to more easily input data into AES. Further, they have identified ways to incorporate other agencies' export requirements into AES--another area GAO cited as needing attention. Although they have not yet conducted a cost/benefit analysis of continuing to implement AES, they are scheduled to conduct such an analysis in January 2000 after an older export filing system has been completely phased out.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Treasury and of Commerce should direct the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service and the Director of the Bureau of the Census to delineate the concrete actions needed to improve the Automated Export System's (AES) potential, and after doing so, assess the costs and benefits of continuing to implement AES.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs and Census have substantially implemented the recommendation to take concrete actions to improve AES; as a result, they have succeeded in increasing the level of exporter participation in the system which GAO cited as being critical to meeting program objectives. For example, in June 1999, the two agencies changed their regulations to allow exporters to more easily input data into AES. Further, they have identified ways to incorporate other agencies' export requirements into AES--another area GAO cited as needing attention. Although they have not yet conducted a cost/benefit analysis of continuing to implement AES, they are scheduled to conduct such an analysis in January 2000 after an older export filing system has been completely phased out.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Treasury and of Commerce should direct the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service and the Director of the Bureau of the Census to delineate the concrete actions needed to improve the Automated Export System's (AES) potential, and after doing so, assess the costs and benefits of continuing to implement AES.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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