Customs-made Man

Charles Winwood

Charles Winwood

While President George W. Bush’s nominee for commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service awaited Senate approval, Charles Winwood ’69 was named in January as acting commissioner.  The commissioner’s position is a Presidential appointment; Winwood’s regular job as deputy commissioner is the highest post in Customs to which a career person can rise.

As acting commissioner, Winwood heads an organization of more than nineteen thousand employees. He has made the agency’s history his own:  With Customs since 1972, Winwood has been named Federal Executive of the Year, has received two Presidential Ranks of Meritorious Excellence awards, and has been accorded the Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive.

Winwood left IUP and its ROTC program as a commissioned officer with a degree in education. After two years in the Army, including combat duty in Vietnam, he took the test for Customs inspector. In 1972, he and his wife, Christine Villella Winwood ’71, moved to Florida, where Winwood rose from assistant airport director at Miami International to assistant regional commissioner of Operations for the southeast United States. By 1985, Winwood was in Washington as assistant commissioner, Office of Field Inspections, and in 2000, he was named deputy commissioner of Customs.

The Customs Service has been a crucial part of the government for more than two hundred years. It is one of the two major revenue producers in the U.S. government today, just after the IRS. For every dollar appropriated by Congress, Customs returns over sixteen dollars to the taxpayer. In 1999 Customs provided $22.1 billion to the U.S. Treasury.

The Customs Service is the only border agency with an extensive air, land, and marine interdiction force and with its own intelligence branch for investigations. Winwood is especially proud of the agency’s groundbreaking expertise in uncovering and fighting cybercrime. “There’s always something new to conquer,” Winwood said. “There’s always an opportunity to create. Although we’re steeped in history and tradition, we’re not held back by it.”

The CyberSmuggling Center brings together U.S. Customs Service assets to deal with all varieties of Internet crime, including international money laundering and offshore cyberbanking; drug trafficking (including prohibited pharmaceuticals and steroids); intellectual property rights violations; illegal arms trafficking and export of strategic and controlled commodities; and international child pornography. “I find it extremely satisfying to be a part of taking out international pedophiles,” said Winwood. “I take great pride in the results we have shown in keeping child pornography off the street and making sure it doesn’t get into the chain of consumption.”

Winwood believes job opportunities in the Customs Service will continue to grow. “We’re a very complex, multifaceted organization with a tremendous career path,” he said. In addition to law enforcement, narcotics, investigative, or civil crime areas, jobs exist for specialists in fields ranging from technology to public relations to piloting airplanes, helicopters, or boats. The Customs Service has seven major laboratories nationwide staffed with chemistry, science, and engineering graduates.

Winwood’s own path led from his birthplace in Braddock, Pa., to a childhood in Jeannette to Greensburg’s Central Catholic High School.  At IUP he was a Sigma Tau Gamma brother and a Social Science Education major. He earned a master’s degree from Florida International University in 1976 but he never became a teacher, as he once thought he would.  After spending more than half of it in the Customs Service, though, he is still excited about his life.

“You can really get a sense of making a difference,” he said, “not only from the standpoint of helping the economy of the United States but also serving the American public and protecting our citizens. I don’t think there’s anything more compelling than that. I’ve been here almost thirty years, but I look around, and it seems like it’s just thirty days. I can’t wait until tomorrow.”