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How Much Do Federal Law Enforcement Agents Make?
Federal law enforcement salaries follow a federal pay scale, but there are several variables that can affect your pay. These include your position, experience both in the field and that you bring to the job, where you live, and how long you’ve worked for the agency.
Median annual salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes federal law enforcement in the same category as police officers and sheriffs. Here are median annual salaries by state.
Median Salary: $64,610
Projected job growth: 3.1%
10th Percentile: $40,190
25th Percentile: $50,630
75th Percentile: $81,850
90th Percentile: $102,530
Projected job growth: 3.1%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$79,310||$62,430||$101,050|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
The BLS notes that federal law enforcement officers generally earn more than state and local officers and breaks down median pay for police officers and detectives as follows:
Factors that can affect your salary
The federal salary scale, along with a number of other factors, will determine your actual salary.
- Grades: Pay grades are related to title, education, experience and job responsibilities. An increase in grade is considered a promotion.
- Steps: Pay steps are based on your length of service. An increase in step is a pay raise, but is not considered a promotion.
Because of these variables and the many different federal law enforcement jobs, there are many potential salaries available for federal agents. The FBI cites a pay range from $78,000 for a new agent recruit to $153,000 at the top end for experienced agents.
Where you work can play a factor into your salary as well and agents receive cost-of-living adjustments based on where they live. Here are some examples of the annual salary for grade 1, step 1, the lowest level on the GS scale, for some different metropolitan areas:
- New York City: $27,244
- Washington D.C.: $26,532
- Miami: $24,973
- Des Moines, Iowa: $23,504
According to the BLS, these are the top-paying metro areas—all in the state of California— for police officers and sheriffs:
Since jobs vary widely it makes sense that salaries do too. Here are some related careers and their median annual salary according to the BLS.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Detectives and Criminal Investigators||$83,640|
|Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers||$64,610|
|Transportation Security Screeners||$45,470|
|First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives||$99,330|
|Information Security Analysts||$102,600|
Benefits with a federal law enforcement career
Beyond just a solid paycheck there are other benefits that come with federal law enforcement jobs. Some of the most common include:
- Pension through the Federal Employees Retirement System:
- The federal retirement system includes a pension that is based on years of service and your highest-earning years.
- Paid vacation:
- Federal employees can earn anywhere from 13 to 26 vacation days per year, depending on their length of service.
- Generous sick leave:
- Regardless of length of service, federal employees get 13 sick days per year.
- Health insurance:
- There are numerous choices available for insurance coverage for health, dental and vision. Options include coverage for yourself, your spouse and your family.
- Life insurance:
- Employees can get life insurance for themselves, their spouse and their children.
- Federal employees can take part in their choice of 401k plans with an employer match of up to 5%.
- 12 weeks of FMLA leave:
- You can receive up to 12 weeks of parental leave after one year of service.
- Coverage of relocation costs:
- Employees can receive a relocation incentive of up to 25% of their salary if they must move for the job.
The overall demand for detective and criminal investigator jobs is expected to grow -0.7% through 2031, while police and sheriff jobs can expect 3.1% growth until 2031. The average growth rate for all jobs is 5% according to the BLS, so investigators can anticipate slower than average growth, while police and sheriff jobs are just slightly slower than the national average.
BLS projects most of the demand for new hires will stem from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the field for other occupations. The number of new hires will also depend on budget dollars allotted to personnel and on location, which is driven largely by local and state budgets.
How much competition will I face for a job?
Federal websites say they need people for the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security—particularly individuals with a broad range of backgrounds, specialty expertise and professional experience. But even though there may be jobs available for those who qualify, expect there to be plenty of competition. In fact the FBI accepts less than 20% of applicants, and the hiring process can take more than a year.
“We’re always striving to get the best candidates,” said Ghani Iqbal, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Being smart and having the right credentials is definitely helpful, but many candidates can get discouraged by the lengthy application process. They are tempted to move on and take another job that pays more, such as those in the private law enforcement sector.”
Still, there are plenty of applicants who are not deterred by the application process or the promise of more money elsewhere, and if you have the stamina to stick it out, you may be the type the agency is looking for.
“Money is not a motivating factor for the majority of the people that are in this profession. It’s something else. It’s that X factor…”
“Money is not a motivating factor for the majority of the people that are in this profession. It’s something else. It’s that X factor. And I really think it’s about the public service and doing something worthwhile in your life, to get up every day and be a part of something bigger. There’s a sense of purpose and of personal satisfaction,” he said. “Give us 20 years of your life, and while you’re not going to get rich, we’ll give you a pension and a career that you will never regret and that will be the adventure of a lifetime.”