U.S. Customs Service:

Prospective Rulings More Timely, but Database Reliability Questions Remain

GAO-03-828: Published: Aug 6, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 6, 2003.

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GAO previously reported that the U.S. Customs Service Office of Regulations and Rulings (OR&R) headquarters was not timely in issuing most of its prospective rulings, which establish the duties importers pay on imported goods. The Trade Act of 2002 required GAO to determine whether OR&R has improved the timeliness of its prospective rulings. In addition, GAO determined what actions OR&R took to improve the timeliness of rulings and whether OR&R resolved challenges it faced with the reliability of automated rulings data.

OR&R headquarters improved its response time for issuing prospective rulings since GAO issued a September 2000 report concluding that most rulings were untimely. GAO's review of a sample of prospective ruling request cases opened and closed from February through October 2002 showed that OR&R headquarters completed about 75 percent of these cases within its prior goal of 120 days, with about 64 percent of the cases completed within the 90-day goal mandated by the Customs Commissioner in January 2002. For cases in the latter part of our sample that were opened and closed from July through October 2002, after significant progress had been made in reducing a backlog of ruling requests, OR&R completed an estimated 94 percent of the cases within 90 days. OR&R also reported that it was successful in its efforts to eliminate the February 1, 2002 backlog of 757 ruling requests that had been open more than 90 days. Since the Commissioner's January 2002 mandate to issue rulings within 90 days, OR&R has given ruling requests the highest priority, with increased attention to balancing workloads and increased management oversight. OR&R has also taken other actions to help issue rulings within 90 days and prevent delays. OR&R continued to face data reliability challenges with its automated rulings database. OR&R has taken corrective actions to improve the accuracy and reliability of the database. However, these corrective actions do not provide assurance that OR&R has resolved the data reliability challenges because some of the actions lack specific procedures for their effective implementation.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DHS' Office of Regulations and Rulings (OR&R) has taken actions addressing GAO's recommendation, as described in a July 2003 memorandum from the OR&R Assistant Commissioner to OR&R managers.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the Legal Case Inventory System (LCIS) data are accurate and that OR&R can reliably use the database as a management tool to record and monitor prospective rulings and measure timeliness, the OR&R Assistant Commissioner should take steps to continue to assess LCIS data reliability to determine whether recent improvements sufficiently correct past problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection


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