Doing Business With U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

General info: CBP<@VM>The CIO file: Charles Armstrong

Things to note

Information on doing business with CBP begins with the "contracting" link at the bottom of the home page. ( xp/cgov/toolbox/contracting) Here, I found something new: information about submitting unsolicited proposals.

It appears the agency is quite open to products and services that it hasn't specifically contracted for but that could be helpful to its mission. This comes under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, of course, so there is a link to the FAR home page ( for details on keeping it all legal. Do check out "related links," listed on the right, including those for modernization and the Automated Commercial Environment and for FedBizOpps, which features contracting opportunities with the bureau.

Another worthy mention I found: a searchable database on intellectual property rights ( Washington Technology frequently covers this topic in "Infotech and the Law." This database is updated nightly with the latest information available.

Also, a general observation: I like CBP's Web site for its consumer friendliness. You don't have to be a federal employee to navigate it, and anyone who wants to submit a question to its FAQ page may do so. As we're all being asked to be more careful and observant these days, this Web site is a good place to answer many questions regarding travel and threats.

The FAQ page on the agency's Web site is quite informative, especially for those traveling abroad.

Posted are answers to many hot-button issues, such as bringing in medication bought outside the country (you may, but only if it's FDA approved), purchasing firearms overseas (only registered firearms dealers can do this), and what you are allowed to pack in your luggage for air travel these days (check the TSA's Web site). The FAQ link is on the home page:

Statistics for fiscal 2003 showed that Customs and Border Protection arrested and detained more than 1 million people seeking to illegally enter the United States, including 17,618 criminal aliens and 483 detained for national security reasons. The agency credits technology and greater manpower for this result. Also, nonintrusive inspection technologies help conduct almost 5 million exams at U.S. ports of entry, making for 2,200 busts that garnered more than 1.1 million pounds of narcotics.

Remember: If you see any suspicious activity you think could be connected to terrorism, call (800) BE-ALERT.

U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC, 20229

(202) 354-1000

Founded: March 1, 2003

Commissioner: Robert Bonner

Employees: 41,001

What it does: The bureau is charged with guarding U.S. borders and enforcing homeland security. It comprises the Customs Service, Border Patrol and inspectors from Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Agriculture Department. Commissioner Bonner has referred to the agency's mission as "twin goals": keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the country and doing so without hindering legitimate trade and travel. It also guards against diseases and pests that could harm agriculture as well as illegal drug trafficking.

Major subagencies: The bureau is part of the Homeland Security Department. Major divisions are Port Security and Trade Compliance Operations, Border Security Operations, and Trade Modernization Through Automation. Its various offices include Field Operations, Border Patrol and International Affairs, among others.

Number crunching

U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

2005 request: $6.2 billion

2004 budget: $5.9 billion

Department of Homeland Security

2005 request: $40.2 billion

2004 budget: $36.6 billion

Charles Armstrong

U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

Full title: Acting assistant commissioner for the Office of Information and Technology

Took the job: Nov. 1, 2003

Hometown: Virginia suburbs

Family: A daughter, 13, and a son, 11

Hobbies: Travel and golf. "I have a love for architecture. I am very interested in the art and science of designing and erecting buildings, both old and new."

Last book read: "John Adams," by David McCullough

Reading now: "The DaVinci Code," by Dan Brown

Alma mater: Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems from Old Dominion University. A Harvard Senior Executive Fellow, Armstrong also attended courses at MIT.

WT: How has technology changed what your agency does?

Armstrong: On any given day, our officers process 1.3 million passengers, 50,000 trucks and containers, 65,000 people, 355,000 vehicles and 2,600 aircraft. They deserve the best tools available to make decisions. They need adequate, timely and reliable information to defend the homeland and ensure the borders are open for business.

The events of Sept. 11 changed the focus and planning efforts of many of our IT systems. The international landscape, characterized by terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and an increasing volume of global trade, has underscored the need to enhance our capabilities to protect America and facilitate trade. To accomplish our mission and support broader national security objectives, and to ensure America's leadership position in the global economy, Customs and Border Protection and other government agencies responsible for border enforcement need an enhanced ability to access a large volume of information, analyze data and turn it into useful information, share information quickly, and make decisions on cargo admittance early, before and at the border. Enhanced automation is critical to the trade community.

WT: What are your biggest tech issues now?

Armstrong: With the process of unifying our agency well under way, we have turned our attention to effective integration of our mission support activities. Representatives from this agency, Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have been working closely to design and implement a structure for sharing critical mission-support services. DHS and Border and Transportation Security are new factors in our planning and coordination. There are many interdependencies and policy issues, and this office is working with these organizations to integrate them into our support.

We need to keep working with other key DHS components in implementing a shared service and cross-servicing approach to helping customers within DHS and the CBP, with an emphasis on integration, knowledge flow and information sharing for an effective information, science and technology infrastructure.

WT: What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

Armstrong: Our acquisition support team conducts market research on vendor capabilities to quickly identify those with unique capabilities or products that CBP may wish to use. Market research is mainly conducted on small-business corporations. CBP requires all software developers and maintainers to be independently certified as either SW-CMM Level 2 or International Standards Organization (ISO) ISO 9001-2000. A company that we do business with will have to have corporate capabilities that will benefit DHS and CBP and have a good track record for delivery.

WT: For a company that is new to working with your agency and has something to offer you, where is a good place to start?

Armstrong: Any company coming to work for us should understand our mission and be able to help us achieve our goals. We need to have a good partnership and be able to work with all our contractors. We are collaborating with border and trade agencies and international trade bodies in modernizing our systems. I encourage companies to share their best practices and make recommendations.

WT: A year from now, where do you see the agency's technology capabilities?

Armstrong: Major deployments of U.S. Visit, Automated Commercial Environment releases 3 and 4, Free and Secure Trade, the Border Verification System, Trade Act 2002, all of which include hardware and software installation, training staff, and coordination with trade entities will all take place this year. We will continue to deploy additional and improved X-ray and gamma-ray imaging systems to detect contraband in cargo transported by land, sea and air. We will improve container security with the second phase of the Smart and Secure Container Program development effort.

CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement tactical communications resources will be combined into a single, shared services program structure. We are expanding use of an electronic manifest to all carriers and all air, sea and rail ports plus land border in-bond capability.

We'll expand the Container Security Initiative will be expanded to additional foreign locations, implement interactive processing of passenger data with air carriers, and improve our chemical agent detection devices. We will continue to work with other DHS components to implement a shared service and cross-servicing approach to serving customers, with an emphasis on integration, knowledge flow and sharing for an effective information, science and technology infrastructure.

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