Learn What Federal Agents Do

Learn what federal agents do and find education programs available across the country.

The Basics

What you'll do: Federal law enforcement agents have duties similar to those of state and local police officers. Agents enforce the law, investigate crimes, collect and preserve evidence, write reports for government prosecutors, apprehend criminals and testify in court.

Degree you'll need: Bachelor's degree

Median annual salary: $74,300*

Top paying states: District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, California, Illinois

Federal Law Enforcement Overview

man aiming gun representing federal agent jobs

The U.S. government needs to fill federal agent jobs across the country. Whether you want to work for the ATF, DEA, IRS, INS, DOJ, Department of Homeland Security or the Secret Service, there are many job options available for students of criminal justice.

Generally, federal agents deal with specialized types of federal crimes such as trafficking, fraud or homicide. Homeland Security encompasses Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Secret Service, which protects the president, vice president and other government officials.

Job Divisions

The following federal agencies offer the criminal justice jobs you're looking for:

  • Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Agent: ATF agents enforce U.S. laws pertaining to the sale and possession of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and increasingly, explosives. ATF agents conduct surveillance, interview suspects and witnesses, make arrests and raids, and collect evidence.
     
  • Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) Agent: INS agents, including border patrol agents, immigration inspectors, criminal investigators, detention and deportation officers, work for the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to maintain the security of the borders of the United States. They apprehend people who illegally enter the country, detain and deport illegal immigrants, prevent products from entering illegally, and enforce the rules and regulations regarding foreigners employed in the United States.
     
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Agent: IRS agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department investigating people for tax violations, money laundering, computer fraud and illegal tax shelters. IRS agents interview witnesses and suspects, write reports for trial preparation, and participate in surveillance, undercover activities, and searches and seizures.
     
  • Secret Service Agent: Secret Service agents work for the U.S. Treasury Department, and primarily protect the president and vice president of the United States and their families. They are also responsible for protecting past presidents, foreign heads of state and official representatives of the United States. In addition, Secret Service agents investigate counterfeiting, fraud and forgery.
     
  • Deputy U.S. Marshal: U.S. Marshals work for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Deputy U.S. Marshals conduct fugitive investigations, protect U.S. courts, protect federal witnesses, seize and manage assets acquired from criminal activities, provide prisoner custody and transportation, and provide law enforcement support in national emergencies.
     
  • Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Agent: DEA special agents help maintain law and order, and conduct criminal investigations related to drug trafficking. DEA agents conduct surveillance, infiltrate drug trafficking organizations, conduct investigations and arrest violators, confiscate illegal drugs, conduct money laundering investigations, collect and prepare evidence, and testify in criminal court.

Federal Law Enforcement Job Prerequisites

Entry-level candidates for the ATF, DEA, IRS, INS, DOJ and Secret Service must have a college degree and either one year of experience conducting criminal investigations (excluding the IRS) or one year of graduate school.

Candidates for federal law enforcement jobs must successfully complete a written, oral and medical examination, a physical-task test, a polygraph examination, and a psychological assessment. They must also possess a valid driver's license and undergo a background investigation. Finally, candidates must be at least 21 but less than 37 years of age at the time of appointment.

After you've been accepted by the agency, you'll train at the FBI academy on the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia for 16 weeks.

Because AllCriminalJusticeSchools.com is not affiliated with any local, state or federal agency, you should be sure to check with whichever agency you’re considering to see if the program you're interested in has any other specific requirements or restrictions.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition; Police and Detectives.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.