Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The International Trade Data System—a global data-sharing initiative

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. By LCDR Mike Dolan, chief, Cargo Security Branch, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Port and Facility Activities.

On January 24, 2008, RADM Brian Salerno, the U.S. Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security and Stewardship, signed a letter of intent for the Coast Guard to become the 43rd participating government agency in the International Trade Data System. This decision opened the door for the Coast Guard to explore new ideas for using information to improve programs, harmonize processes with other agencies, and reduce regulatory burden on industry.

When announced at the February 2008 meeting of the Commercial Operators Advisory Committee, this decision generated applause and acclaim. The senior industry leaders who comprise the committee represent major companies that import the consumer goods our nation relies on. These leaders know that the global marketplace’s future progress requires an emphasis on data and technology. As a heavily regulated community, they were happy to see the Coast Guard join a project intended to streamline the process of delivering required information to the government.

What Is the International Trade Data System?
The International Trade Data System (ITDS) is an ongoing, long-term U.S. interagency community of interest. The Customs and Border Protection automated commercial environment (ACE) major acquisition project, which is creating and modernizing computer network interfaces with the international trade community, supports the ITDS community. The ITDS members’ requirements will shape the spiral development of ACE capabilities. The objective is to provide a single portal for commercial entities to submit all trade data and information required by the federal government. Once through the ACE portal, the data then goes into the ITDS community’s repository.

The project intends to facilitate more streamlined operations in that commercial entities will submit information to the government only once, in paperless form. Regulatory agencies will benefit by having complete visibility of all trade data along with connection to all the other agencies’ programs and activities.

Opportunities for interagency coordination and program improvement abound, and some agencies have already reaped benefits. For example, the Federal Safety Inspection Service achieved a 44-fold increase in the tonnage of ineligible product detected, detained, and removed from the food supply in one year using information obtained through an early version of the ACE portal.

Why Is This Important to the Coast Guard?
Like most high-level policy issues, the decision to participate in ITDS had both political and pragmatic drivers and implications. First, the politics. Signed into law in October 2006, the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 states, “All federal agencies that require documentation for clearing or licensing the importation and exportation of cargo shall participate in the ITDS.” The act also states, “It is the sense of Congress that agency participation in the ITDS is an important priority of the federal government …”

Additionally, Coast Guard leadership began to see potential value in the concept. Program managers started to recognize that participation in the International Trade Data System could give the Coast Guard not only access to information, but to other agencies’ processes and programs, as well. This access would have a cumulative value that exceeded any cost of participation.

Finally, because the ACE system and the ITDS agency network interfaces were already being built, the Coast Guard realized that the window of opportunity was limited. The longer the wait to join, the less influence it would have had on the design of the network interface. And so, with a leap of faith, the Coast Guard joined the International Trade Data System with some visionary ideas of what it might achieve.

As a large, complex organization, we are at the most exciting phase of this new initiative. We are envisioning all the wonderful things that we can achieve, and stand ready to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. Participation in the International Trade Data System gives us a powerful tool and a path forward to make sure that the Coast Guard stays current with technology and stays engaged with the regulated community.

For more information:
Full article and “Focus on Safety” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings. Click on “archives” and then “2008 Vol. 65, Number 2” (Summer 2008).

Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.

Online survey available at: http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/survey.asp.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.