by M. Sigmund Shapiro
November 3, 1998

The U. S. Customs Service is testing an idea in San Francisco which bears the acronym ICE (Informed Compliance and Enforcement). It’s an appropriate appellation since it will no doubt send chills through the Customs brokerage industry and at the same time make importers shudder.

The procedure’s quite simple. Customs sends a notice to the broker and copies the importer every time an entry is rejected, in order to alert both parties. At the same time, a record is kept of broker errors, to build a dossier on the broker’s efficiency.

The motivation, according to Customs is “to raise the compliance rate” and to identify brokers who make repetitive errors, sort of like Torquemada did in 15th Century Spain to protect the Church from possible heretics.

To segue from the above reference, it brings to mind the procedure in Mexico. There, brokers have exclusive jurisdiction over clearance and are responsible for complete and accurate information and duty payment . Any error, no matter how small can result, not only in a fine, but perhaps a jail sentence to boot.

Not only is this San Francisco test an insult to the licensed professional Customs broker, it puts the government in the position of suggesting to an importer that it ought to change brokers. This is unconscionable and could have legal and political consequences which Customs would have to defend.

Customs intends testing the procedure through April, and then go nationwide under the acronym FATS (Filer Activity Tracking System).

A famous jazz musician, Fats Waller, wrote the appropriate song for this bit of overkill entitled “Ain’t Misbehavin”. Surely by April, brokers will be saying “the fat’s in the fire”.