U.S. Customs and Border Protection is collaborating with a working group of the Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee to develop procedures to be followed in the case of an Automated Commercial Environment outage. With nearly all core trade processing capabilities having now been transferred to ACE, an Aug. 2 outage that lasted nearly an entire day has raised renewed concerns about trade facilitation and enforcement in the event of a similar occurrence in the future.
CBP officials have said the Aug. 2 outage was due to a hardware failure, not a software issue or a cyberattack. The agency has been examining the cause of the problem and plans to make changes as needed, though no specific details have yet been made public. An overview provided at the Nov. 14 COAC meeting noted that once the remaining core trade processing capabilities are deployed in ACE in February 2018 CBP will work to ensure the availability and reliability of the system through timely bug fixes, program management, software sustainment, and infrastructure support for deployed capabilities.
In the meantime, COAC is moving to address the various negative effects an ACE outage could have on the trade community. Shortly after the Aug. 2 incident COAC established a working group that is cooperating with CBP to develop an ACE downtime procedures document that would establish as much uniformity as possible while still allowing sufficient flexibility for ports to adjust based on local risk factors and infrastructure. As part of this process the working group is examining how different modes of transportation are impacted by ACE disruptions.
In addition, COAC approved a number of related recommendations to CBP at its Nov. 14 meeting. To mitigate the impact an ACE outage might have, members asked CBP to specify the data elements that would be required to release goods during a disruption and to provide early warning notifications of potential unplanned disruptions. To facilitate trade during a disruption, members recommended that CBP enhance the ACE availability dashboard to provide additional information and allow software vendors to directly contact OneNet support rather than going through the ACE helpdesk. Once ACE has been restored following a disruption, members said CBP should avoid manually amending or back dating the release date to the date of arrival. They also requested that CBP conduct a proactive review prior to issuing liquidated damages cases for filings that may have been connected to a system disruption.