Brokers, forwarders to Customs: ACE isn’t ready for February rollout

U.S. customs brokers and forwarders are asking Customs and Border Protection to halt all software changes tied a system aimed at streamlining the filing of import and export documentation just weeks before it’s set to take effect, saying the Automated Commercial Environment, or single window, isn’t ready.

The warning from the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America is the latest sign that the rollout of ACE might not be smooth. The program — already more than $1 billion over budget and three years overdue — was initially supposed to come online in November, but Customs pushed back the timeline.

“We have said that live testing of software by importers and exporters, by brokers and forwarders, by software providers, and by CBP jointly, without any further changes whatsoever, demand a minimum of 60 days,” the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America wrote in a Jan. 8 letter to the agency. “Customs now says that its work is complete; the facts, however, suggest otherwise.”

Customs wasn’t immediately available for comment. Heavy snowfall closed federal offices in Washington D.C.

The NCBFAA is concerned that because the single window is being constantly updated, with some changes slated to be introduced on the transition date of Feb 28., shipper software will not be able to handle some changes, which could result in bugs and other technical problems that may delay shipments and create costs. Should there be problems with the single window, shippers will be left without recourse to file Customs paperwork because the old system for filing this necessary documentation is set to be shut down on the same day the single window takes effect.

“We have reached a critical juncture in the life cycle of this project,” the NCBFAA said, “In order to avoid unprecedented delays and unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses, developmental work — to include meaningful testing and process development by the private sector — must be completed before use of the new system is mandated and the existing system is terminated.”

What was supposed to be a change welcomed by shippers because of simplicity and $3 billion in savings has become a source of unease because new features are being added to the system without proper testing, the NCBFAA said. Computer coding can sometimes result in a game of whack-a-mole, where new features and fixes break the code elsewhere, creating unforeseen consequences.

While warning against rushing ahead with the single window, the NCBFAA also said it still supports the program but wants to avoid what happened to Australia in 2005 when it implemented a single window before the system was finalized and tested.


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January 28, 2021