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The U.S. Homeland Security's new online system for tracking the contents of ocean containers, called the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), won't be entirely operational until 2011.
Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has already spent $1.5bn trying to get ACE to work, and the tab is expected to soar to $3.3bn, assuming Congress agrees to pony up the additional funding--anything but a sure thing.
That's a shame, because the facts are overwhelming proof that America faces an epidemic of dangerous, defective and potentially deadly products arriving through its ports. In 2006, 467 products were recalled because they contained hazardous materials such as lead, were prone to failures such as the separation of treads on a tire, contained carcinogenic materials, or otherwise posed a serious health risk to consumers.
In 2007, there was an average of 28 products recalled weekly, or about four each day. Sixty percent of all products recalled in 2006 came from China, and 100 percent of toys recalled in 2007 were made in China.
But since ACE is being rolled out gradually over several years, government agencies such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission won't be able to access CBP's detailed manifest data for incoming vessels docking at U.S. ports until late 2008 at the earliest. Starting in fall 2008 CBP plans to begin shifting the processing of rail and vessel manifest information to the ACE system from its mainframe-based predecessor, the Automated Control System (ACS). An antiquated terminal emulation system built during the Reagan administration. ACS is scheduled for complete replacement by 2011.
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