The U.S. Customs Service awarded a $1.3 billion information technology modernization contract to IBM Global Services on Friday. The long-awaited contract will lead to the construction of a new import processing system that will replace the agency's current outdated system. The new Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) is the replacement for the long-suffering Automated Commercial System, which is used to process summaries detailing the products in an import shipment. Increasing trade levels have caused Customs' current system to fail over the past few years, causing backups at ports and border entry sites across the nation. "The global economy has significantly increased the traffic of goods and people crossing our borders, so it is important that the U.S. Customs Service has the technology to meet those demands head on," Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement released today. Customs received $130 million in the fiscal 2001 budget for modernization after years of disputes with the Clinton administration and members of Congress. The Bush administration has included the same amount for fiscal 2002, leaving many observers worried that the system could take 14 years to build instead of the preferred 4 to 5. Even so, "we are extremely excited that the government will be moving ahead with this important update with one of the nation's most critical IT systems," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "Customs is one of the first defenses for illegal drugs entering this country. The fact that Customs has been dealing with a computer system that has basically been breaking down has been very unfortunate for the American taxpayer as well as importers and exporters." IBM will enlist the support of numerous companies to build ACE, including Computer Sciences Corp., KPMG Consulting, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sandler & Travis Trade Advisory Services. Selecting the prime contractor was "an important first step in providing U.S. Customs with state-of-the-art technology essential to expediting movement of commerce," said Charles W. Winwood, Customs' acting commissioner. "We can now begin the process of bringing 21st century business practices to America's borders."