Customs Funding Moves Forward

WASHINGTON (07/13/2000) - A House Appropriations subcommittee earmarked money Wednesday to keep the U.S. Customs Service modernization program alive for another year.

Although the amount of money tucked in the fiscal 2001 budget is still up in the air, funds were included in the US$14.4 billion Treasury-Postal spending bill for fiscal 2001 to begin work on replacing the 17-year-old system - the Automated Commercial System - that regularly breaks down.

The subcommittee approved $233.4 million for Customs computer systems, including $105 million for the Automated Commercial Environment program. That money will do little more than fund a feasibility study and begin the project, but it's a start for a program that importers say is desperately needed at U.S. borders.

"It certainly is enough to get the program started," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president with the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division.

Money for the automated system is not guaranteed. It still must face a full committee and Senate approval before it is signed into law. And the White House wants importers to pay for the new system through a user fee, instead of using funds from the general treasury.

Customs officials hope there will be enough money so that they can finally launch the World Wide Web-based system that would move goods faster and link border entry points via an intranet. The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion over four years. But if nothing changes, lawmakers and importers agree that the system will keep crashing and hurt U.S. trade.

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