Federal law enforcement careers vary in their responsibilities and focus, but when it comes to career perks, it's a different story. Whether you're working undercover or transporting federal prisoners, you can enjoy the same employee benefits across the board.
Federal agents typically have a healthy pension, experience fewer layoffs and more upward mobility. With a degree in criminal justice, you may find a career offering a comfortable salary as well.
From fish and game wardens to border patrol, federal law enforcement agents can earn a pension through the government's Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). How your pension is calculated is based on factors such as years of service.
Some fast facts on what you can expect with a federal pension:
- Portability: If you decide to leave a federal law enforcement career, you'll have the option of taking your retirement contributions as a lump sum
- After five years of service, you're eligible to receive your funds at retirement age in monthly installments if you don't choose the lump sum option.
- According to a USA Today/Gannett analysis in 2012, the most common federal career to receive at least $100,000 annually through a pension was federal law enforcement.
While federal law enforcement careers aren't 100 percent immune to layoffs, job security tends to be stronger compared to the private sector. As the population increases, federal law enforcement agents are needed to protect the borders, work as U.S. Marshals and in other areas of criminal justice. Downsizing in an agency usually happens when an employee leaves the job and isn't replaced.
There is also an appeals process which lets federal employees challenge firings, suspensions and other personnel issues.
Federal employees are typically eligible for a promotion after working for a year in their current grade. However, eligibility doesn't equal automatic advancement. Employee performance and job availability are important matters taken into consideration.
Your education is another factor that can affect your career trajectory. While all federal law enforcement careers require a bachelor's degree, if you are looking to move into a specialized field, such as homeland security, a master's degree could help. In these programs, which take between 18 and 24 months, you'll learn about management-level issues in the specific field.
Federal law enforcement careers have a reputation for good salaries. They are often equivalent or better-paying than jobs in the private sector. The federal government also adjusts the figures based on the cost of living by location.
As an example, border patrol agents salaries in the Boston area range from $22,218 to $155,500, while the same job in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area starts at $21,504 and tops out at $155,500.
Factors affecting salary:
- Overtime pay
- Step level
- Grade level
A federal law enforcement career can provide you with many benefits, but competition is fierce. Earning an advanced degree in criminal justice or law enforcement can give you the foundation for your career and help display your expertise in the field.