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Protecting Integrity Through Investigation

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Special Agent Kelly Berwanger relies on her more than 20 years of federal service to protect the integrity of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) workforce. In her position within CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), she is responsible for investigating allegations of corruption, misconduct, and mismanagement, ensuring compliance with all relevant CBP-wide programs and policies, and executing CBP’s internal security and integrity awareness programs.

Being a special agent is rewarding but challenging work, said Berwanger. She takes special care on the job to respect situations and personnel. Given the “nature of my work, people usually aren't celebrating when we show up,” Berwanger said. “But I still try and show my respect as an individual.”

Office of Professional Responsibility Special Agent Kelly Berwanger Photo by Randy
OPR Special Agent Kelly Berwanger
Photo by Randy Schwartz

Her interest in law enforcement began in high school when she took a class in criminal justice. “This was the second half of my senior year and up until that class, I had been planning on going to college for a communications degree,” Berwanger recalled.

That course completely changed her trajectory. Berwanger was already registered to begin the fall semester as a communications major at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York; however, she changed her major to criminal justice and never looked back. During her studies, Berwanger developed a connection with the missions of federal agencies and took an internship with the U.S. Secret Service. There, she was introduced to investigations in counterfeit currency and protection operations. She landed a second internship with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service where she became fascinated by the “techniques used to track suspicious packages and also to identify the individuals who were receiving and opening them.”

Engaged and inspired, after graduation Berwanger became a Customs Inspector at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. There, in passenger processing, she evaluated customs declarations and conducted secondary inspections of international travelers entering the U.S. She worked under an exceptional leader who taught her a valuable lesson about being a federal employee — particularly one who is responsible for investigating their colleagues. “Even if you don't respect the person, you have to respect the position,” she said. With that respect for duty, she learned to cut personal feelings from the workplace and focus on her role.

Over the course of her career, Berwanger has worked at several federal agencies. She “followed in the footsteps of the agents I met during my internships and became a special agent with the Secret Service, serving in both the New York and Los Angeles Field Offices, where her early experience focused on electronic crimes. Berwanger takes pride in knowing she was integral to prosecuting criminals, including child predators, as she tracked their digital footprints from file-sharing websites to their home computers.

Between domestic and foreign dignitary protective assignments, Berwanger also conducted bank fraud investigations and later investigated threats against Secret Service protectees. After an immensely rewarding career with the Secret Service, Berwanger then joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, where she investigated Medicare fraud.

In September 2021, Berwanger brought her wealth of knowledge and experience to CBP-OPR’s Investigative Operations Directorate. With an area of responsibility covering 27 locations across the country, the scope of Berwanger’s position is unique and challenging. A typical day for a special agent may include responding to duty agent calls or incidents at CBP facilities, investigating allegations of criminal or serious misconduct by CBP personnel, or responding to critical and use-of-force incidents. These duties along with others require a multifaceted skillset. “We are not just trying to catch agents and officers involved in malicious activity,” Berwanger said. “We also protect the integrity of the agents and officers from false allegations. We care about their integrity when they are falsely accused.”

Along with integrity, Berwanger believes humility to be a critical trait for a special agent. “I think it’s really important to be humble. Acknowledge when you don’t know something, and be willing learn,” Berwanger said. “I think that openness, teamwork, and collaboration — that's invaluable as an agent. Accept that you don't know everything.” She looks forward to continuing to learn and grow with the agency and her colleagues as she begins this exciting new chapter in her career.

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Last Modified: June 6, 2022