ACE in the hole

The Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) and its related are an entirely new approach to border security that also promises to speed up truck clearances at the landport crossings operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While it's still a voluntary program in the demonstration phase, sometime later this year you're going to be required to begin using ACE to submit electronic data on

The Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) and its related “e-manifest” are an entirely new approach to border security that also promises to speed up truck clearances at the landport crossings operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While it's still a voluntary program in the demonstration phase, sometime later this year you're going to be required to begin using ACE to submit electronic data on freight you move into the country from either Canada or Mexico.

How your fleet satisfies that requirement will depend on a number of factors, including your current dispatch operations, established relationships with customs brokers and the volume of your trans-border business. But given the number of options already in place, you should be able to choose a method that saves you time at the border without much additional effort or cost.

Better still, electronic data formats very similar to ACE are also likely to be adopted by Canada in the near future, offering fleets set up to use the system similar time-savings on export loads as well. And while discussions with Mexican Customs officials aren't as far along, there is a good likelihood that they, too, will base an expedited border clearance program on a similar data stream. So any investment now in ACE should offer a strong and long return for any fleet hauling freight into or out of the country.

Today fleets rely on their customs house broker to relay manifest information for each load to U.S. border authorities. The entire process is based on single transactions, with fleets faxing or transmitting manifests to brokers, who then enter data into CBP systems.

ACE moves away from this transaction-by-transaction process. Instead, carriers set up their own accounts to directly submit a standardized manifest electronically to CBP before a truck reaches the border. This e-manifest allows CBP to pre-screen the crew, vehicle and shipment information.

When the truck approaches the primary inspection booth at the border, CBP officers already have required data fields entered for faster processing. That not only eliminates the current bar-code scanning process for CBP's advance screening system, but should also reduce referrals to secondary booths for additional inspection, according to CBP officials.

The new account-based system also allows carriers to store driver and vehicle data for quick creation of new e-manifests, track arrival and release status for their trucks, request in-bond shipments directly from the manifest, create reports to evaluate border-crossing compliance issues, and to automatically forward the e-manifest to customs brokers for entry into U.S. Customs data systems.

Currently CBP has the ACE system running at 43 border crossing ports in Washington, Arizona, North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota and Texas, leaving about 100 more sites, which will be added in groups of 10 to 15, according to Louis Samenfink, executive director of CBP's cargo systems processing office.

MANDATORY PROGRAM

Carriers registered with ACE are already using it to submit e-manifests at these sites on a voluntary basis. “However, we plan to make [ACE and e-manifest] use mandatory sometime later this year at some locations,” says Samenfink. The timetable for that conversion will be published in the Federal Register before it takes effect, but “it is coming and we will gradually expand [the program] to cover every truck entering from Mexico or Canada,” he says. “Carriers [with cross-border operations] will most likely have to deal with [ACE] within the next year.”

While fleets will be responsible for submitting the required e-manifests under the new system, Samenfink points out that “carriers will still want to have a customs broker relationship to get entry information into the [Customs] system. It's the combination of that entry information and e-manifest that will move cargo quickly.”

Once in place, ACE should benefit carriers by speeding up border processing and giving them quick access to status notifications, Samenfink says. “And…our trained officers will be able to spend more time inspecting trucks and shipment information,” he adds. “And that's good for national security.”

How to ACE crossings

Carriers have four options for submitting the e-manifest that will be required by ACE.

ACE Secure Data Portal

CBP offers a free, web-based method for creating and filing e-manifests. Once a fleet establishes a portal account, it types manifest data into a fill-in form using a standard web browser. The application has recently been upgraded to make it simpler to use, allowing account holders to store frequently used information such as driver, equipment or shipper data.

While the price is appealing, this option will be used by carriers with relatively little cross-border freight since it involves manual data entry for each crossing. Instructions on setting up a carrier account is available by email at [email protected] or by calling 703-336-4326.

Internal EDI interface

Fleets with in-house EDI capabilities can develop their own e-manifest interface for ACE or purchase existing record layouts from a provider.

While the cost and complexity of maintaining EDI will limit this option to fleets with the volume and resources to justify in-house EDI, it should be relatively simple for those fleets to meet the e-manifest requirements. More information on EDI requirements is available at www.cbp.gov/modernization.

Certified Service Provider

Existing EDI third-party providers are obtaining certification to add e-manifest services to their offerings. Some, like Kleinschmidt Inc. (www.kleinschmidt.com) offer both a VAN (value added network) option for carriers already using EDI and an Internet hosted option for those that don't need other EDI functions. Others like Oceanwide Inc. (www.oceanwide.com) are concentrating on web-based applications that can be integrated with fleet management software.

While the ACE portal provides basic functions for creating and submitting e-manifests, third-party solutions offer a wider range of customization and integration options. Typically they also offer training, 24/7 technical support and automatic updates as required.

Upgrade to fleet management systems

The major developers of fleet management systems have or are currently developing modules that will integrate e-manifest chores with current dispatch and customer service applications.

“All the data fields for the e-manifest are already being captured by our systems, so why not create the e-manifest within the system and eliminate any new data entry,” says Neal Crenna, marketing manger for Maddocks Systems Inc. (www.maddockssystems.com).

In addition to eliminating redundant data entry, integrating ACE capability also widens the uses for data coming back from CBP, giving fleets better visibility into any issues, problems or exceptions they might be experiencing at the border crossings.

Maddocks has just certified the ACE module for its TruckMate for Windows system. Others, including McLeod Software (www.mcleodsoftware.com), TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com) and Innovative Computing Corp. (www.innovativecomputingcorp.com), are also in the process of releasing similar upgrades for their systems. Current users can expect the new ACE module to be deployed as an upgrade in most cases.

Data captured by the management systems is typically translated into EDI formats behind the scenes. Initially at least, VANs that have already received CBP certification are being used to transmit the EDI files to ACE. Additional cost, if any, for that VAN service will depend on a fleet's current EDI volume. Most developers, however, are also considering individual certification for their ACE e-manifest modules for those customers who do not want to use VANs.

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