On August 28, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced its plan to conduct a general test to further develop the Centers of Excellence and Expertise (CEEs) and to invite comment concerning the methodology of the test program.

The CEEs were first established in October 2011 to facilitate the entry of merchandise imported by companies within certain industries that were both Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C–TPAT) participants, and Importer Self-Assessment (ISA) members. The industries first involved were the Electronics CEE in Long Beach, California and the Pharmaceutical, Health & Chemical ECC in New York City. The number of CEEs was expanded to four with the addition of Automotive & Aerospace CEE in Detroit and the Petroleum, Natural Gas & Minerals CEE in Houston.

The CEEs have been staffed with CBP employees who specialize in the subject merchandise and facilitate trade by providing account management and engaging in risk segmentation and trade outreach. The CEEs have the ability to review entries and the CEE Directors, who are tasked with leading the CEEs, may make entry processing recommendations to the port directors concerning the entries of the participants.

The test plan would involve providing broad decision-making authority to the four CEEs. Specifically, the test would waive certain regulations to the extent that they provide port directors with the authority to make certain decisions. This is to facilitate CBP’s stated goal of incrementally transitioning the operational trade functions that traditionally reside with the ports of entry until they reside entirely with the CEEs. By focusing on industry-specific issues and providing tailored support for the participating importers, CBP is seeking to facilitate trade, reduce transaction costs, increase compliance with applicable import laws, and to achieve uniformity of treatment.

Under the test, when participants file an entry in a port, the required entry documents will be routed to the CEE assigned to that importer and certain revenue-related functions will be performed by the applicable CEE director instead of the port director. Some of these functions include the issuance of all Requests for Information (CBP Form 28) and issuance of all Notices of Action (CBP Form 29). Accordingly, participants would be required to provide their responses to the CBP 28s and 29s directly to the CEE as well as any protests they wish to file.

The test is intended to last three years from October 12, 2012. At the conclusion of the test, an evaluation will be conducted to assess the effect that providing CEEs with broad decision-making authority has on improving trade facilitation, lowering transaction costs for importers, and ensuring importers’ compliance with applicable import laws and CBP uniformity of actions. CBP plans to publish a notice when the test closes.

Eligible importers of the products covered in the CEEs who wish to participate must apply with CBP and all C–TPAT and ISA members currently participating in the existing CEEs also need to apply if they wish to participate. Further, test participants are required to adhere to certain compliance requirements, including complying with a set of terms and conditions. Also test participants may face discontinuance from the test as well as fines and penalties for misconduct occurring under the test.

CBP began accepting applications for participation in the test on August 28, 2012. The selection of initial test participants will begin no later than September 27, 2012. Applications will be accepted throughout the duration of this test and selected applicants will be individually notified of their participation date.

To submit comments concerning this test program, send an email to CEE@cbp.dhs.gov with ‘‘Comment on CEE test’’ in the subject line.