Commissioner Bersin Hosts Trade Advisory Committee Meeting in D.C.
On Tuesday, less than two weeks after a terrorist plot involving air cargo packages bound for the U.S. was foiled, members of the Advisory Committee on Commercial Operations of Customs and Border Protection, also known as COAC, convened in Washington, D.C. for the last public meeting of the committee's 11th term.
The meeting was hosted by CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin, who co-chaired the proceedings with Timothy Skud, the deputy assistant secretary of tax, trade, and tariff policy for the U.S. Department of Treasury. Since 2008, this committee, comprised of 20 appointed members from the international trade community, has provided advice on matters pertaining to the commercial operations of CBP and related functions within the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Treasury.
In his opening remarks, Commissioner Bersin acknowledged the recent terrorist attempts involving air cargo shipped from Yemen on commercial cargo planes. "Fortunately, this latest terrorist attempt was unsuccessful," he said. "Working closely with our trade partners and others in the law enforcement community, we were able to identify, locate, secure, and inspect a number of other additional suspicious packages at locations throughout the country, and to satisfy ourselves that, in fact, these shipments did not pose any threat to the homeland."
The meeting included updates on trade programs and COAC subcommittee work. Among the topics discussed was Management by Account, a program that has the potential to redefine and strengthen the agency's relationships with its trade and business partners. The program was a major focus for CBP last summer, resulting in two pilot programs that were launched on November 1.
One of the pilots, a Center of Excellence and Expertise, will develop strategies to facilitate trade and manage risk within the pharmaceutical industry. The other pilot, an Account Executive program, will engage trusted partners in the electronics industry to facilitate trade and ensure continued compliance with all import requirements. Both pilots were developed from recommendations made by COAC.
"The Account Executive pilot will help CBP formalize an account-based approach to dealing with trusted low-risk partners," said Bersin. "We want to remove barriers for these partners and enable our agency to focus on higher risk companies and shipments. We intend to approach our trusted partners in the private sector on an account basis rather than on a transaction basis."
While the Management by Account project is ongoing, many felt that progress has already been made. "At Nike, we have a saying that there is no finish line. What this means is innovation is a never-ending process," said Jeffrey Whalen, the Assistant General Counsel of Customs and International Trade for Nike, Inc. "I think that's where we find ourselves today, but we really had a summer of great achievement and we should recognize that achievement."
According to Whalen, the next big thrust for committee members is simplifying the entry process. "The crown jewel of trade facilitation clearly is the 'simplified entry' or the trusted shipper concept," said Whalen. "As we continue our discussion on trade facilitation, the consideration of a trusted shipper concept is at the heart of the next COAC."
The Automated Commercial Environment, or ACE, was another key program discussed during the meeting. Cindy Allen, the new executive director of the ACE Business Office, which is part of CBP's Office of International Trade, was introduced to committee members. Allen, who was hired from outside the government, was a member of the trade community prior to joining CBP.
"The first week that I was on the job, ACE was designated as a high-risk project by the White House and OMB [Office of Management and Budget]," said Allen. "We did a status update for OMB, which was very well received. The improvement plan that we had been working on, and implemented in many instances, got very positive feedback, indicating that we were taking very positive steps. More so than a lot of the other high-risk IT projects on the list, so we believe that our path forward as a high-risk project is going to be short-lived."
While presenting a demonstration on a document imaging system to COAC members, Allen explained that the ACE Business Office had been working on three priorities that Commissioner Bersin and Deputy Assistant Secretary Skud had agreed upon. The first priority was the document imaging system. The second was the interoperability of Web services with participating government agencies, and the third was the development of a standard set of data elements that agencies need to collect to meet their statutory obligations and missions regarding import safety.
"I'm pleased to announce," said Allen, "that the first of our priorities was completed in four months, which is phenomenal for an IT project anywhere, and quite remarkable for the government."
Other areas of discussion during the meeting included the International Trade Data System, Importer Security Filing known as "10 +2," intellectual property rights enforcement, the recent Interagency Import Safety Conference, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism 2010 Partner Survey, agricultural programs, and bond issues.
For a number of COAC members, many of whom had served two successive two-year terms, this was their last meeting. New COAC members for the 12th term will be appointed and announced at a later date.
Commissioner Bersin recognized the members for their commitment and voluntary service. "One of the best traditions of Americans is associating for the purpose of sharing ideas, listening to one another civilly, and taking ideas forward to implement them for improved practice," said Bersin. "It's a very, very unique feature of this society and the COAC members exemplify and embody the values that make this such a valuable process."
COAC is a 20-member advisory committee that was established by Congress in 1987. The committee provides advice and recommendations to CBP and the Department of Treasury on the commercial operations of CBP and trade-related interdepartmental functions. Some of the issues that COAC focuses on include enhanced border and supply chain security, international efforts to harmonize customs practices and procedures, agriculture inspection, import safety, compliance, and modernization and automation processes used to facilitate trade.
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