Port's $9 million computer doesn't fit needs Only half of system used, state Senate panel is told

March 01, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

A $9 million computer system designed to take the Port of Baltimore into the next century has largely failed its mission and amounts to the waste of millions of tax dollars, according to state officials.

The Automated Cargo Release and Operations Service System -- known as ACROSS -- began operation in 1986. It was designed to allow port customers to clear documents with the U.S. Customs Service, communicate with one another, and perform other functions.

But a combination of rapidly changing markets and shifting requirements by Customs has left the system without the number of users or functions it was designed for, said Brendan "Bud" O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

"That didn't pan out. . . . It is not showing a lot of utility," O'Malley said in Annapolis yesterday under sometimes heated questioning by a Senate subcommittee overseeing the Transportation Department's budget.

The computer system has been used as a basis for other automation projects at the port administration. But O'Malley said only about half of it is being used and the other half "is not and never will be."

"I can't defend it," O'Malley said. The system was already in place and floundering before he took his job with the port administration.

"In many other ports and airports in other states similar experiences were had," he said.

Sen. Julian L. Lapides, D-City, criticized the program and asked O'Malley to provide information on the systems that private businesses had adopted in lieu of ACROSS.

O'Malley also faced questioning about the port administration's budget shortfall, which is expected to reach $3.34 million this year and drop to $944,000 in fiscal 1992, which begins July 1. The agency is requesting a budget of $47.8 million for next year, up from $47.4 million this year.

Prior to 1989, the port administration generated more money in fees from users than it paid out. This surplus helped fund other transportation projects. But a drop in cargo tonnage, and discounts offered to keep the remaining business, have eaten into port finances.

The port administration trimmed money from its original request for fiscal 1992, including the elimination of about $900,000 in performance bonuses and incentive pay, and $50,000 from the $345,000 it had planned to spend on the Pride of Baltimore II goodwill sailing ship. The payment of bonuses during periods of falling business has been controversial at the port agency.

The administration is asking for $7 million in capital funds this year, but was unable to provide details on what the projects were other than some paving of marine terminals.

"I don't want to spend another bent farthing on capital until you start showing results," said Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel.

Sam Adolfo, president of Local 1852 of the Waterfront Guard Association, attended the Senate hearing and accused the port administration of providing police protection to the private Sea-Land Services terminal. The port's newest terminal, Seagirt, has been built around the Sea-Land terminal.

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