Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations
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Universal Electronic Freight Manifest Initiative


Improved operational efficiency, productivity and security of the transportation system through the implementation of a common electronic freight manifest (EFM) and a message portal to provide access to the shipment information to all supply chain partners real time.


The Universal Electronic Freight Manifest initiative is comprised of 2 building block efforts that are required prior to conducting and evaluating a deployment test. The building block efforts consist of coalition building, or outreach activity, necessary to get the industry and project stakeholders in synchronization with the test. The other building block effort consists of developing foundation element tools. These tools consist of, 1) standardizing electronic messages that will be shared between businesses and government, 2) a concept for a message portal that will carry the message across the entire supply chain, 3) a system architecture to define the linkages to all user parties in the supply chain, and 4) a business case to define rules and procedures for supply chain partners participating in the deployment test. The final activity in the EFM initiative will be to conduct and independently evaluate the deployment test. Coalition building will be initially focused on the EFM test. Heavy emphasis will be given to coalition building and stakeholder outreach through 2007 to not only get expert review and advice but also to have other industry sectors on ready to expand the effort beyond the initial supply chain. The foundation elements of message standards, a message portal concept, and biometric identifier standards are all expected to be ready for testing between 4th quarter 2005 and 1st quarter 2006. The deployment test is expected to commence in the 1st quarter 2006 and end in 1st quarter 2007. The independent evaluation will be paralleling the deployment test but will take til 4th quarter 2007 to complete.


International trade is 25% of US GDP and growing. Current economic forecasts indicate that by 2020 freight volumes will increase by 70% from 1998 totals and freight volumes through our primary gateway ports could more than double. Given our existing and predicted physical capacity constraints, finding ways to improve the operational efficiency of moving this freight through our nation is critical to our economic vitality. Freight movement, particularly international freight movement, is multi-modal involving not only physical but information transfer during the exchange between modes. To better understand these exchanges and where the potential opportunities are for improvement, USDOT has worked extensively with our private sector partners in the Intermodal Freight Technology Working Group (IFTWG) to create a freight process map that mapped the physical movement of a container through a domestic supply chain along with its attendant information flow. Evaluation of this freight process map with our industry partners pointed us in the direction of the information transfer of a freight exchange as an area where improvements in speed, accuracy and visibility could reap large rewards. This initiative directly targets that information exchange.

To understand how overall productivity can be improved through the electronic transfer of information, the origin to destination system of a FedEx or UPS is illuminating. In their closed systems, the transfer of information from origin to destination across modes is tightly scripted and very efficient – their overall system productivity is their concern and they have tightly woven information transfer into how they move freight. It is this efficiency that we seek to demonstrate the possibility of in an open system.

This initiative is referred to as the Universal Electronic Freight Manifest. It builds on the Electronic Supply Chain Manifest (ESCM) project and, depending on test results and industry adoption, could be expanded to all modes. A universal electronic manifest is one of the high priority freight initiatives in the Department’s Freight Action Plan. This initiative works directly with the freight transportation industry to identify break points that will lead them to implement a Universal Electronic Freight Manifest, and partners with industry to conduct operational tests that provide quantitative data on costs and benefits associated with implementation of products and practices derived from the initiative.


To date the ITS/JPO has invested over $1M on the ESCM project and $200,000 on freight data exchange message standards. In pursuing this effort, we followed the recommendations of our private sector counterparts and began the ESCM initiative in one domestic supply chain that handles high-value goods – the truck-air-truck interface. The ESCM project finished its initial phase in 2002, and demonstrated a cost saving of $1.50 - $3.50 per shipment due mostly to time savings. The success of this project has led us to expand the project to successive phases in the truck-air-truck supply chain.


Deployment is virtually impossible without industry and government visionaries who want to improve the environment they operate within. The IFTWG has been the stakeholder group that has worked with government to realize the successes of the ITS freight operational tests. That group has expressed interest in maintaining support through the deployment processes. In addition, a project stakeholder team has been developed to give more specific advice on the EFM as it is rolled out in the air cargo environment. Those stakeholders consist of the American Trucking Association, the Air Transport Association, the International Air Transport Association. New York JFK Air Cargo Association, Chicago O’Hare Air Cargo Association, freight forwarders and air cargo truck feeder lines in the New York and Chicago areas, as well as The Limited Brands as a shipper and their supply chain partners in Asia and the US. Government stakeholders from TSA and CBP have also been participating in the stakeholder business meetings for planning the deployment test.


This initiative has the potential, from a system perspective, of pushing paper out of the system of information transfer amongst the supply chain elements (e.g., manufacturer, shipper, freight forwarder to air carriers). Work to date has been focused on truck-air freight interface. Should implementation of an electronic manifest in the truck-air interface be successful, the next steps would build on this and move it to a Universal Electronic Freight Manifest that encompasses other modal interfaces (i.e. truck-truck, truck-rail, rail-sea and truck-sea).

Included in this initiative is work with national and international standards organizations to ensure harmonization of the data elements of the electronic manifest with the data elements that are reported to governmental agencies. This ensures we are in-step with the large intergovernmental activity of bringing Customs’ next generation database, the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), on line and with its multimodal interface, the International Trade Data System (ITDS).

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