How CBP plans to spend and repay its $ 15 million modernization fund loan
The Customs and Border Protection Agency still has a COBOL coded mainframe app in its wallet and just received a loan of $ 15 million of the Office of Management and Budget to complete the migration of the system to the cloud.
Parts of the Automated Business System, or ACS, have already been migrated to the New Automated Business Environment, or ACE, a set of modules hosted in an Amazon cloud.
CBP completed the first version of its modernization effort in September 2019 – at a cost of around $ 10 million – which allowed the agency to start routing around 90% of its collections through the new ACE system. , Sonny Bhagowalia, Acting Deputy Commissioner and Chief Information Officer. for CBP’s Office of Information Technology, said Nextgov in an interview.
The ACS — and, soon, the ACE — supports the federal government’s second-largest revenue collection, behind the IRS. Last year, the system collected more than $ 80 billion in taxes and fees on goods imported into the United States.
As the aging system is retired, the remaining ACS capabilities will be deactivated and replaced with a new suite of tools that will mirror all of the functionality of the old system, CBP IT officials said. Nextgov.
But, “the last mile is the hardest mile,” said Bhagowalia, and the agency needed a quick injection of money to keep the momentum going until the end.
For example, CBP IT and finance managers turned to the Technology Modernization Fund, a central fund loaned to specific agency projects to upgrade existing IT systems. The fund is currently capped at $ 150 million, although there is efforts To to augment this ceiling, with the agencies repaying the loans over three to five years, leaving room for other modernization projects.
After about two years of work, including a rejection by TMF’s board of directors, which asked the agency to refine its business case and reduce the amount requested, CBP was awarded $ 15 million for the program. ACE Modernization Award, marking the 10th TMF award to date and the first for a Department of Homeland Security agency.
“It really is a great victory and an important step for us,” said Bhagowalia.
Some of the programmers who coded the original ACE in COBOL 30 years ago are still working at CBP, officials said, some of whom are waiting for ACE to log on before retiring.
While CBP updated or moved its other systems to the cloud, ACS remained in an aging mainframe, coded in a 60-year-old programming language. CBP IT officials said Nextgov this was due to the importance of the system: they “didn’t want to just dive in without doing our due diligence” and risk leaving the agency – and the country – without a major source of revenue.
Thus, the agency was sure to take a “very deliberate approach,” according to an official in CBP’s finance office.
“It takes time to make sure that all of these processes and all of this information migration and the way they work together is done with care. I think that was another reason why ”CBP took its time to replace ACS, said Bhagowalia.
The cross-office team working on the modernization effort also wanted to make sure they used agile development processes that would allow early deployment of a minimum viable product and iterative improvements along the way.
They started by chatting with stakeholders who use ACS to get a feel for the requirements and functionality needed in the new system. From there, the development team created modules for each ability, with features and user stories to support and guide the work.
To date, this work has resulted in version 1, in which CBP migrated data from ACS to ACE. The team must now complete the development of the remaining capacities and launch these modules in the cloud-based ACE system. This will require around $ 15 million, most of which will be used to hire a subcontractor for the development and testing process, officials at CBP said.
The $ 15 million loan will be repaid over a five-year period, CBP finance officials said, starting one year from receipt of the first funds. Bhagowalia said the funding will arrive at CBP in two installments, with the first due to complete the final approval process in the near future.
The team expects that the savings resulting from the closure of the last mainframe and other efficiencies gained through the use of cloud services will support part of the payback. However, as the main producer of money for CBP and the federal government, CBP officials were not concerned about being able to repay the loan.
While the agency could have used working capital or some other savings mechanism to raise funds over time, Bhagowalia said the team didn’t want to lose momentum down the home stretch.
“TMF immediately gives us benefits because it gives us a quick brew that we can then pay back,” he said. “This allows us to continue our momentum.
Overall, Bhagowalia said the process of securing TMF funds was “difficult but fair”.
He recommended that other agencies interested in applying be sure to put together a “professional team” to introduce the board.
“It requires a lot of partnership in terms, not only of the stakeholders of the program, but also of the department – the CIO and CFO of the department, they have been very supportive,” he said. “And you have to have a little patience. It takes a little while. But we were resilient and determined, and had the courage and persistence because we had a good record. “