Customs Service Modernization:

Architecture Must Be Complete and Enforced to Effectively Build and Maintain Systems

AIMD-98-70: Published: May 5, 1998. Publicly Released: May 5, 1998.

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Jack L. Brock, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Customs Service's enterprise information systems architecture, focusing on determining whether: (1) the architecture is complete; and (2) Customs has processes and procedures to enforce compliance with the architecture.

GAO noted that: (1) Customs does not yet have a complete enterprise information systems architecture to guide and constrain the millions of dollars it spends annually to develop and acquire new information systems and evolve existing ones; (2) for five of its six business areas Custom's architecture does not: (a) describe all the agency's business functions; (b) define the information needed to perform the functions; and (c) completely identify the users and locations of the functions; (3) while the architecture and related documentation describe business functions, and users and work locations for the sixth business area, they do not identify all the information needs and flows for all the trade functions; (4) also, Customs has named certain technical standards, products, and services that it will use in building systems to support all its business areas; (5) however, Customs has not chosen these based on a complete description of its business needs; (6) the limitations in Customs' architecture are rooted in its decision to focus on defining the technical characteristics of its systems environment; (7) Customs' view does not include the logical characteristics of its enterprise system environment, which would enable it to define and implement systems that optimally support the agency's mission needs; (8) Customs plans to develop the architecture in accordance with Department of the Treasury architectural guidance; (9) specifically, Customs plans to define its functional, information, and work needs and their interrelationships across its six business areas and, in light of these needs and interrelationships, reevaluate the technical characteristics it has selected for its systems environment; (10) until Customs defines the logical characteristics of its business environment and uses them to establish technical standards and approaches, it does not have adequate assurance that the systems it plans to build and operationally deploy will effectively support the agency's business needs; (11) Customs also has not developed and implemented effective procedures to enforce its architecture once it is completed; (12) Customs officials stated that a newly established investment management process will be used to enforce architectural compliance; (13) this process, however, does not require that system investments be architecturally compliant or that architectural deviations be justified and documented; and (14) as a result, Customs risks incurring the same problems as other federal agencies that have not effectively defined and enforced an architecture.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs worked extensively with the Gartner Group and, in May 1999, completed its enterprise information systems architecture. Customs adopted Treasury's Information System Architecture Framework and periodically met with representatives from Treasury's CIO's office. Customs completed both the baseline and target architectures for its six business processes. In completing the target architecture, Customs described its target business operations for all six business processes, defined its interrelated business functions to support these target operations, and described the information needs and flows among these functions. Customs is using the architecture to identify systems that will provide the information needs and flows to support the functions. Also, Customs' architecture includes a technical reference model that specifies the standards for Customs' systems to ensure that they interoperate effectively and efficiently and they are cost-effective to maintain.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Customs Service develops and effectively enforces a complete enterprise information systems architecture, the Commissioner of Customs should direct the Customs Chief Information Officer (CIO), in consultation with the Treasury CIO, to follow through on plans to complete the enterprise information systems architecture. At a minimum, the architecture should: (1) describe Customs' target business operations; (2) fully define Customs' interrelated business functions to support these target operations; (3) clearly describe information needs (including security) and flows among these functions; (4) identify the systems that will provide these functions and support these information needs and flows; and (5) use this information to specify the technical standards and related characteristics that these systems should possess to ensure that they interoperate, function together efficiently, and are cost-effective to maintain.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 1999, Customs changed its information technology (IT) investment management process to explicitly require that proposed IT investments comply with its enterprise information systems architecture. Specifically, as one of the initial steps of the investment process, the technical review committee reviews all IT investment proposals for architecture compliance. All proposals must comply with the architecture unless an exception is justified and the technical review committee grants a waiver.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Customs should direct the Deputy Commissioner, as Chairman of the Internal Review Board, to establish compliance with the architecture as an explicit requirement of Customs' investment management process except in cases where careful, thorough, and documented analysis supports a waiver to this requirement.

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


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