© Danielfela CBP_57196187
© Danielfela

More than three years and $1bn dollars over budget, the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) that is supposed to streamline data flow to and from US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) is still plagued by flaws. This could have a knock-on effect for the planned Air Cargo Advanced Screening (ACAS) programme, as ACE has been regarded as the conduit for forwarders to submit their shipment information prior to moving the goods.

To express its concerns about the problems that bug ACE, the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America (NCBFAA) has issued a white paper that calls for action on a number of elements that need to be remedied. The organisation’s members process 97% of all entries filed for goods entering the US.

The NCBFAA paper highlights four areas where more work is required – the release of goods, programming capabilities to support entry or entry summary, post release data issues and clarity of messages issued by the system.

According to the paper, ACE is not capable of consistently providing a stable release date for border clearances, which is vital for a number of filing requirements and deadlines. On the entry and entry summary functionality, which is vital for duty assessment as well as for the collection of statistics, the authors pointed to “several critical issues” with elements such as remote location filing, currency conversion for duties and value declaration, and insufficient automation of the invoice interface. On the post-clearance side, the paper points to “ongoing and often uncommunicated” changes in the reconciliation function and the removal of protest filings from CBP’s Automated Broker Interface.

Communication is also an issue with the messages that ACE sends out. The NCBFAA is calling for a complete list of ACE messages and their meaning. The authors described the messaging system as “duplicative, inconsistent and prone to incorrect interpretation by CBP and stakeholders”.

ACE was meant to replace the obsolescent Automated Commercial System years ago. After some delays CBP started introducing elements of the new regime in 2015 and had targeted full implementation by the beginning of last year, but was forced to postpone some elements of the system indefinitely.

The NCBFAA described ACE as a “work in progress, inching closer to completion but still in need of a substantial infusion of common sense policy, solid programming, additional budget allocation and good government oversight”.

“That white paper is an eye opener,” commented Brandon Fried, executive director of the US Airforwarders Association. He added that the flow of messages about delays and system down times emanating from ACE suggests that the platform is far from stable at this point.

Beyond clearance issues, this could pose a headache for forwarders when the planned ACAS mandate for advance submission of shipment data for international air cargo comes into effect. This envisages the responsibility for filing the data with the authorities to shift from the airlines to the forwarders. While this has not been finalised, the prospect of rising need for advance data strengthens the case for making the forwarders the responsible party, Mr Fried reckons.

“A lot of airlines would love to see this come to fruition,” he added.

CBP has made it clear that it is not going to supply a portal to submit these data, Mr Fried noted. Hence the industry has assumed that ACE would be leveraged to this end, but the delays and technical issues are raising question marks over its viability, he remarked.

“If ACE has all these issues, we would be extremely concerned about using it for ACAS. If the system is down, for example, we could face denied boardings,” he said. “Our concern is stability and what the back-up is.”

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