Customs Service Modernization:

ACE Poses Risks and Challenges

T-AIMD-97-96: Published: May 15, 1997. Publicly Released: May 15, 1997.

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Jack L. Brock, Jr
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GAO discussed issues related to the U.S. Customs Service's systems modernization, focusing on: (1) Customs' efforts to address risks associated with the agency's modernization of its automated systems; and (2) challenges Customs faces as it plans and develops the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) System.

GAO noted that: (1) in May 1996, Customs was ill-prepared to develop ACE because the agency was not effectively applying critical management practices that help organizations mitigate the risks associated with modernizing automated systems and better position themselves to achieve success; (2) consequently, efforts to successfully develop ACE were vulnerable to failure; (3) because GAO found that clear accountability for meeting National Customs Automation Program (NCAP) requirements was lacking, GAO recommended that Customs assign such responsibility; (4) Customs acted quickly by assigning overall, policy-level responsibility for implementing NCAP to the Trade Compliance Board of Directors and day-to-day responsibility for implementing NCAP to the Assistant Commissioner, Office of Information and Technology; (5) because the remaining three recommendations call for significant changes in long-standing management practices, they will require Customs leadership's sustained commitment and focus; (6) GAO recommended that Customs identify and analyze how it will conduct its future business before selecting the information systems architecture; (7) Customs changed the CDC-2000 project to emphasize conducting analyses of business requirements prior to selecting an architecture; (8) Customs hired a contractor in January 1997 that is expected to conduct these analyses and recommend a process for selecting an architecture in June 1997; (9) GAO recommended that Customs manage information technology systems as investments; (10) in April 1997, Customs specifically tasked a contractor to assist with the development, implementation, and institutionalization of a complete information technology investment management process; (11) as of early May 1997, Customs officials told GAO that the contractor's work will be completed and the investment process will be in place in July 1997; (12) GAO recommended that Customs ensure that the agency adhere to its own policies for developing information systems; (13) Customs updated these policies to include new provisions on software project planning and project management; (14) as of early May 1997, Customs had revised the ACE project plan and Customs officials told GAO that the revised project plan complies with their system development policies; (15) Customs also faces a number of challenges in planning and implementing the ACE project itself that will require additional effort to resolve; (16) these challenges relate to the cost and schedule for ACE; and (17) Customs' plan is to produce a comprehensive project plan that includes cost and schedule information in February 1998.

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