GAO: Timeliness of Customs rulings improving

GAO: Timeliness of Customs rulings improving

WASHINGTON - A General Accounting Office report says the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection's Office of Regulations and Rulings (OR&R) has improved the timeliness of prospective rulings that it issues, but the reliability of its rulings database needs improvement.

The congressional audit office found that OR&R had processed 75 percent of a sample of rulings within a 120-day deadline. Sixty-four percent of the rulings were completed in 90 days. Commissioner Robert C. Bonner set the 90-day standard for OR&R in January 2002.

"We cleaned up the backlog, and from Sept. 30 forward we've tried to get 100 percent of the rulings out in 90 days," said Michael Schmitz, assistant commissioner for regulations and rulings. He said that the only times rulings take longer than 90 days are when the ruling depends on a determination from an outside agency, such as the Council on Imported Textile Agreements.

The GAO sampled rulings requests between February and October 2002. Since then, OR&R has announced that it had cleared up a backlog of 757 rulings by July 2002. By September 2002, headquarters ruling requests were being returned to importers in 70 days.

Under the principles of informed compliance, importers may request Customs to make a ruling on an item's tariff classification or value that the importer may use to calculate the duty it owes. The rulings are binding unless revoked through a formal administrative process. Most rulings are processed by OR&R's office in New York in 30 days. Import cases that require more legal research are forwarded to headquarters in Washington.

GAO also said that the reliability of information in OR&R's Legal Case Inventory System (LCIS) needs improvement. The office recommended procedures for updating and properly coding information. OR&R agreed that case managers should verify the data included in LCIS records.

Schmitz said that LCIS is a system for tracking cases, but it is obsolete and will be replaced with up-to-date database software.