e pluribus unum….

SINGLE WINDOW!?!

Highlights of Executive Order 13659 (2 of 4)

In February 2014, President Obama issued Executive Order 13659: Streamlining the Export/Import Process for America’s Businesses. This order established a December 2016 deadline for completion of the International Trade Data System, the United States’ version of a national “Single Window,” detailed key components and functionalities of that system, and created new interagency governance structures to help coordinate implementation. But perhaps most importantly, the Order galvanized customs modernization efforts and challenged agencies to re-think current policies and processes to achieve “measurable improvements” in trade facilitation and enforcement in the near-term and beyond.

Political Will

While public and private sector stakeholders in the United States have long agreed on the potential benefits to be derived from a Single Window system, the challenges of coordinating requirements, priorities, and budgets across scores of government agencies has proven challenging and time-consuming. The recent Executive Order’s establishment of concrete deadlines for Single Window development and identification of associated trade modernization efforts as national priorities gave lift to the effort throughout 2014 and (hopefully!) will promote the sustained momentum needed to continue the project over the next several years. Prior to the Executive Order, the United States benefited from enabling legislation passed under the 2006 Security and Accountability for Every Port Act (Public Law 109–347, Title IV, §405). However, the deadlines and specific activities required by the Executive Order stimulated a renewed sense of urgency and commitment among government agencies. They also gave industry partners and other key stakeholders some additional insight into strategic goals and expected outcomes and hopefully, after a series of missed milestones over the last several years, a measure of confidence in the reality of the December 2016 deadline. This expression of commitment at the highest levels of government certainly energized efforts over the last year, not surprising in light of the fact that “political will” is ranked consistently as one of the top success factors for a single window project in most of the global guidelines published by organizations like the World Custom’s Organization, the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Economic Forum. But going forward, DHS and other agencies understand that a successful effort will require sustained policy, legal, and operational frameworks and an aggressive but feasible agenda for action.

Improved Trade Facilitation and Enforcement

The Executive Order also opened the door for a potentially dramatic evolution in the way the U.S. Government thinks about the goals and anticipated outcomes of the Single Window project. Initial work had, of necessity, focused on establishing a foundational IT platform through which businesses could provide government regulators with a harmonized set of electronic import, export and transit related data. The noteworthy focus of this original effort was to minimize overlaps in government data collection requirements and transition both private and public sector players away from the paper-based and manual processes that have long characterized the commercial environment. By 2014, however, U.S. Government agencies were ready to situate Single Window IT development efforts into a broader and more strategic program of trade transformation and modernization.

The establishment of the Border Interagency Executive Council (BIEC) and its objective to “measurably improve trade facilitation and enforcement” through the development of new policies and processes speaks to this evolved thinking. Explicit in the creation of the BIEC was the understanding that the IT functions of the Single Window were not themselves “THE SOLUTION,” but rather would facilitate the aggressive integration of operations, processes, systems, and functions among agencies to achieve maximum efficiencies. The Executive Order sets expectations for the types of enhanced process interdependencies that the BIEC should work to implement. These include things like developing a common set of risk management principles and methods to improve collaboration among agencies and consistency for businesses importing and exporting goods. In addition, the Executive Order requires the BIEC to find ways to better orchestrate government activities at the border, re-engineer current operational processes, and re-think existing policies to achieve improved service outcomes for businesses.

Looking forward, successful implementation of the Executive Order will be judged by two equally important measures: the degree to which U.S. Government agencies are better able to enforce laws at the border; and the extent to which it is easier, faster, and cheaper to import and export goods across U.S. borders. DHS and others recognize that improving and streamlining government operations is a long-term, iterative process. However, some key process and operational improvements simply must be institutionalized prior to 2016 to ensure that current inefficiencies are not exacerbated by the large-scale transition to an automated and electronic commercial trading environment. Again, the key is to identify a set of ambitious yet feasible goals and priorities, mobilize a sizable bureaucratic body to make decisions on these priorities, and ensure that these decisions are informed by the expert advice of interested stakeholders. Admittedly, this is a pretty tall order but I’m optimistic that working together, governments, business, and other stakeholders can use this opportunity to drive and institutionalize positive change.

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