Customs Service Modernization:

Actions Initiated to Correct ACE Management and Technical Weaknesses

AIMD-99-198R: Published: May 18, 1999. Publicly Released: May 18, 1999.

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Jack L. Brock, Jr
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on Customs Service's efforts to correct the management and technical weaknesses of its Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system.

GAO noted that: (1) Customs had not been building ACE within the context of a complete and enforced enterprise systems architecture or blueprint; (2) the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 requires agency chief information officers to develop and maintain a system architecture; (3) without a target architecture to guide and constrain information technology investment, there is no systematic way to preclude either inconsistent system design and development decisions or the resulting suboptimal performance and added cost associated with incompatible systems; (4) in response to recommendations that GAO first made in May 1998 and reiterated in its February 1999 ACE report, Customs has been working for the past year to complete its architecture and to establish the means for enforcing it on projects like ACE; (5) on the basis of a Customs-provided architecture briefing and demonstration, although some limited work remains, Customs appears to have satisfied GAO's recommendations to: (a) complete the architecture; and (b) institute a process for ensuring that projects like ACE comply with the architecture; (6) Customs was not employing effective investment management practices on ACE; (7) consistent with GAO's recommendations, Customs reports that it: (a) has twice revised its estimate of ACE costs and now projects ACE 7-year life-cycle costs to be between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion; (b) has redone its analysis of ACE's cost effectiveness; (c) will perform cost/benefit and post-implementation analyses on system increments; and (d) will have these analyses independently validated; (8) however, GAO cannot comment on the reliability of either the revised cost estimate or the revised economic analyses because Customs has yet to share the supporting analytical basis for either with GAO; (9) Customs' processes for developing and acquiring ACE software lacked engineering discipline and rigor; and (10) in response to GAO's recommendations, Customs has instituted a requirement that all its software contractors have at least Software Engineering Institute's (SEI) level 2 process capabilities and hired a federally funded research and development center to: (a) develop and implement plans for Customs to achieve SEI level 2 process maturity; (b) assist Customs in bringing a SEI level 3 or higher prime integration contractor for ACE; and (c) serve as an independent verification and validation agent.

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