Like local and state law enforcement professionals, those in federal law enforcement investigate crime and protect U.S. citizens — but on an entirely different level. Tasked with taking down drug organizations, investigating terrorism, protecting borders and cracking down on cyber crime, federal law enforcement is a job like no other.
Law enforcement stakes are much higher at the federal level, and that means a better career with higher pay and more opportunities. However, it also means you’ll have to work harder and prove that you’re capable of meeting the exceptional challenges that come with a career in federal law enforcement. Federal agencies expect the best, and they demand it, accepting only the candidates that can demonstrate a background of excellent education, a clean record, and good health. If you’ve ever dreamed of working for the FBI, DEA, ATF, or border patrol, federal law enforcement is a path you should consider — but you’ll need to prove that you have what it takes.
About This Guide
In this guide to federal law enforcement careers, you’ll learn everything you need to know about getting started in federal law enforcement, including:
- Why working in federal law enforcement is an attractive career
- Expert advice for starting your career in federal law enforcement
- College degrees considered desirable by federal law enforcement agencies
- Internships and programs that can help you get started in federal law enforcement
- Requirements and disqualifications common among federal law enforcement agencies
- The most popular job titles in federal law enforcement
- Overview of major employing agencies in federal law enforcement
Working in Federal Law Enforcement
Law enforcement professionals are entrusted with the safety and lives of U.S. citizens, and that’s a significant responsibility in any jurisdiction. However, at the federal level, the protection offered by law enforcement can make a difference for hundreds, even thousands of individuals at a time as major crimes like espionage, drug trafficking, serial killers, and organized crime are thwarted. The ability to have such a significant impact is a reward in itself, but the benefits of working in federal law enforcement don’t stop there.
The Benefits of Working in Federal Law Enforcement
Law enforcement careers are available at the local and state level, and even in the private sector. What’s so special about federal law enforcement? Our experts say working in federal law enforcement includes a number of benefits that can really make a difference, like more opportunities, better salaries and the ability to relocate. The most significant benefits of working in federal law enforcement include:
- Special salary rates due to expected overtime and relocation expenses
- Larger annual salary increases
- Larger pension and retirement packages
- Diversity of opportunities
- More lateral opportunities in other agencies
- Easier ability to relocate
- Broader range of cases to work on
- More job security
How Can You Start a Career in Federal Law Enforcement?
Working in federal law enforcement has obvious benefits, but there are strict requirements and disqualifications that can make entry difficult. Additionally, top positions within federal agencies may be very competitive. How can you make sure you have the best chance at a career in federal law enforcement?
“In terms of an applicant’s background, the better a person’s education and experience — and the cleaner his or her record — the easier it will be,” says PeopleG2 CEO and founder Chris Dyer.
“Good grades and relevant internships, perhaps with local law enforcement, would enhance any student resume and put him or her in line for such employment,” adds Joblink of Maryland executive director Elliot Lasson. Students should also be careful to keep a clean record and digital presence, he says.
Lasson adds that developing relationships with professors and other faculty members is key. “Many are adjuncts with day jobs in federal law enforcement,” he explains. These relationships can help connect students with internship opportunities.
The hiring process may be dictated by the need for personnel in specific agencies, as well. Excelsior College School of Public Service Criminal Justice and Military Studies senior program director Dr. Michael Verro points out that the Department of Homeland Security hired thousands of new employees as it was formed, but other agencies, including the FBI, DEA and secret service, will hire less frequently and only as needed.
Verro suggests that students can increase their chances of being hired by gathering experience in local or state agencies, receiving advanced degrees or specializing in an area that is germane to the agency to which they are applying. He notes that there are also advantages for military veterans in the field of law enforcement. Veterans are usually given credit for their service, and years may be deducted from hiring age limits based upon their time of service.
Preparing for a Career in Federal Law Enforcement
Are you ready for a career in federal law enforcement? Making the decision to join a federal law enforcement agency means you’ll need to prepare yourself in a number of ways – both physically and mentally. To begin with, you’ll need a strong educational background, a clean record of excellence and good health. You’ll also need to take advantage of special opportunities to develop your skills, such as internships and other programs, which can be the key that gets you in the door of federal law enforcement.
Federal Law Enforcement Degree Programs
Careers in federal law enforcement offer a bright future. How can you qualify to join the ranks of law enforcement at the federal level? It begins with a great education. Our experts recommend pursuing degrees in criminal justice and considering specializations or certifications that can set you apart from the pack. The following degrees are considered an asset in federal law enforcement:
- Criminal Justice
- International Affairs or International Relations
- Computer Science or IT
- Police Science
- Homeland Security
- Public Safety
- Emergency Management
In addition to specific degrees, choosing to take courses in high-demand areas can be a benefit to your career in federal law enforcement. Courses including emergency management and cyber security are solid choices to add to your federal law enforcement degree plan.
“Federal law enforcement, in particular the FBI, has a grave need for college graduates with degrees and specialties in cyber security,” says career coach Sarah Weinberger. “The FBI lacks individuals trained in cyber security. Other branches, such as Homeland Security, CIA and others, also have a need in this area.”
Desired Degrees by Federal Law Enforcement Agency
A degree in criminal justice is a smart move for any student interested in a federal law enforcement career, but federal agencies have specific needs and may have a preference for more specialized degrees. The following chart details preferred degrees for each agency. It’s a good idea to contact agencies directly to confirm the educational background required for your desired position.
|Finance, Business Admin, or Accounting||Contracting Specialist/Officer||Army, USMC, USAF|
|Financial Analyst||DoS, Treasury, DOE, DHS|
|ODNI, FBI, CIA, DIA, NGIA, DEA|
|Computer Science or Math||Scientist||CIA, DIA, NGIA, NSA|
|Informational Assurance Specialist/Officer||DHS, FBI, NGIA, NSA|
|Network Operations Specialist||NSA, DHS|
|Information Technology Specialist||CIA, DHS, DIA, FBI, NSA|
|Intelligence Analyst/Officer||CIA, DIA|
|Computer, Mechanical||Computer Engineers||CIA, DIA, FBI, NSA|
|Electrical or Electronics||Mechanical Engineers||CIA, DoE, NGIA|
|Nuclear Engineering||Nuclear Engineer||DoE|
|Chemistry||Forensic Chemist||FBI, DEA, DoE|
|Biology||Forensic Biologist||FBI, DoE|
|Political Science, Int’l Studies||Intelligence Analyst/Specialist||CIA, DIA, FBI|
|Physical Science||Intelligence Analyst||FBI|
|Foreign Language or Regional Studies
|Foreign Area Officer||Army|
|Foreign Language Interpreter||CIA|
|Foreign Language Instructor||USCG|
|Foreign Language Translator||DIA|
|Sign Language Interpreter||USMC|
|Toponymist||NGIA, NRO, NSA, Navy ODNI|
Internships and Special Programs for Careers in Federal Law Enforcement
A relevant degree and solid record are a good foundation for success in federal law enforcement, but there’s no substitution for experience. Internships and programs designed to help students and recent graduates transition into federal law enforcement careers are ideal for finding opportunities for federal agencies. In fact, some internship programs are specifically designed by federal agencies, and many offer direct paths to employment in federal law enforcement.
“Internships are a great idea for students,” says Dyer. “Not only do they provide students with a chance to gain valuable experience and mentoring from someone in the field, students who complete internships also have great insight to determine if the day-to-day work really fits for their long-term career interests.”
Internships and other opportunities for students and recent graduates interested in federal law enforcement careers include:
- Department of Homeland Security Secretary’s Honors Program: Designed for career-focused entry level professionals interested in a career with the Department of Homeland Security, this program offers a limited number of opportunities including mentorships, on the job training, rotations, and professional development programs. Fellowships are available in a variety of specialties, including information technology, law, policy, and emergency management.
- FBI Honors Internship Program: Undergraduates, graduates, and post-doctorate students can explore career opportunities within the FBI, working at select field offices with this 10 week paid summer internship. After the summer internship, students have the opportunity to continue their internship throughout the year, working a minimum of 16 hours per month at selected field offices or FBIHQ divisions.
- FBI Volunteer Internship Program: Much like the FBI Honors Internship Program, this opportunity gives students of all levels a chance to work directly with the FBI at select field office locations and FBI headquarters for 10 weeks, with the opportunity to extend service. Volunteer positions are unpaid, but academic credit is available.
- FBI Visiting Scientist Program: Outstanding students, fellows, and faculty are able to serve at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia through the FBI Visiting Scientist Program. This program offers participants unique work experience and the ability to contribute to research in forensic science at the FBI’s state-of-the-art lab. Student and faculty appointments are typically offered for three months during the summer, and postgraduate appointments typically last one year, renewable up to four additional years with staff recommendation. Monthly stipends will be provided.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Student Volunteers: Available to both high school and college students, this unpaid training opportunity with the Federal Bureau of Prisons allows participants to explore career options and develop skills with work experience related to academic programs.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Senior Commissioned Officer Student Training & Extern Program: Through this program, students in select health-related fields join the U.S. Public Health Service as commissioned ensigns during their final year of academic study. Students who make an employment commitment will receive a full salary and benefits.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Psychology Internship Program: Clinical or counseling psychology students interested in the correctional environment can benefit from training with the Federal Bureau of Prisons through this program. Interns will learn about functions in the clinician role with cases, seminars, and mentorship. The program lasts for a year, and competent internships are often recruited by the bureau after completion of the program.
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers College Intern Program: This highly selective program offers a unique experience in a federal law enforcement training environment to college students majoring in criminal justice, criminology, or a related field. Three 12 week intern sessions are available each year, with mentorship, training, and work with the FLETC.
- Pathways Programs: The federal government has created the new Pathways Program to help students and recent graduates find the federal job of their dreams. The Pathways Program has three different levels that offer unique training and development not found anywhere else. Each of the Pathway programs, if completed successfully, converts into a permanent position within the federal government. Participating agencies include Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Internship Program: Current students, high school through graduate level, enrolled in any discipline can apply for these paid internships with various federal agencies. Those who successfully complete this program are converted into permanent positions. Recent Graduates Program This is one-year program includes career development as well as training and mentorship. As a recent graduate, you’ll have to apply within two years of graduation, unless you have an exception due to military service. Those who successfully complete this program are also converted to permanent positions. Presidential Management Fellows Program: Recent graduates with a qualifying advanced degree are eligible for the Presidential Management Fellows Program. This is one of the most prestigious programs offered, and it’s considered the best for leadership development for candidates with advanced degrees. Like the others, those who successfully complete the program are also converted to permanent positions.
- U.S. Marshals Centralized Student Career Experience Program: In this cooperative education program, you’ll be prepared for Deputy U.S. Marshal positions. The program offers 16 weeks of work-study with the opportunity to apply classroom experience to the real world. Students who complete the program may be converted into a Deputy U.S. Marshal position.
Additional opportunities may be available. Federal agency websites can provide the most up-to-date information on internships and student jobs:
- Department of Homeland Security Job Opportunities for Students
- Department of Justice Legal Careers: Law Students
- Drug Enforcement Agency: Student and Entry-Level Careers
- FBI Student Center
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Student Opportunities
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection Student Programs
Federal Law Enforcement Requirements: Qualifications and Disqualifications
Federal law enforcement professionals have a serious job to do, and federal agencies are understandably choosy about the individuals invited to join their ranks. That means you’ll have to meet certain standards set by the federal government and individual agencies. These standards typically include qualifications, and more often, disqualifications that determine whether you’re fit for service.
The most basic of requirements for work in federal law enforcement is a clean record.”Generally, previous convictions for felonies and more serious misdemeanors may disqualify a potential candidate,” says Verro. “Also, a history of illicit drug use or any other issues that may be bought up later to discredit an officer may be considered during the hiring process.”
Your health is also a major factor, as federal law enforcement positions are often physically and mentally demanding. “Known medical issues or injuries that might prevent a person from performing certain functions of their job may also preclude a candidate from being hired,” adds Verro.
Qualifications for Federal Law Enforcement Careers
The requirements for individual positions within each agency will vary based on specific needs and demands, but in general, you can expect the following requirements for employment in federal law enforcement:
- Be a United States citizen
- Be younger than 37 years of age at the time of appointment. Currently employed federal employees may receive an age waiver; however, it’s usually only for a lateral move from one law enforcement agency to another.
- Successfully pass an extensive background investigation
- Successfully pass a comprehensive physical examination
- Successfully pass a pre-employment drug screen
- Sign a mobility statement agreeing to move where you’re assigned
Disqualifications for Federal Law Enforcement Careers
Are you prepared to become a federal law enforcement professional? Make sure that none of these disqualifications applies to you.
- Prohibited firearm status: Federal law 18 U.S.C. 922g lists nine different types of individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm or explosives. This disqualifies you from service for ANY law enforcement position at the federal, state or local level. Individuals who have a prohibited firearm status include:
- unlawful users or addicts of a controlled substance
- individuals who have been admitted to a mental institution or adjudicated as mentally defective
- illegal aliens, or those admitted to the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa
- dishonorably discharged soldiers
- former U.S. citizens who have renounced citizenship
- individuals subject to a court order for harassing, stalking or threatening as a credible threat to a partner or partner’s child
- individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors
- Misdemeanors that involve perjury or false statements (varies by agency)
- Bad credit (varies by agency)
- Default on a federally-insured student loan
- Drug use: Varies by agency; generally, quantity and type of drugs are a factor. In recent years, many agencies have become more lax on their drug policy to allow for consideration of more applicants.
- Failure to register with the Selective Service System: Males only
- Lying about your background: This can be as simple as forgetting to report a minor traffic ticket you got years ago.
Medical and Physical Requirements and Disqualifications for Federal Law Enforcement Careers
In addition to background requirements and disqualifications, your physical and mental health is important when qualifying to work in federal law enforcement. In general, you must be in excellent health to work with federal agencies. Many medical conditions are evaluated on a case-by-case basis; however, vision and hearing requirements are not likely to be waived in most situations.
The medical qualifications listed below are standard for the 1811 criminal investigator position. This special agent position spans a number of federal agencies, and it has strict requirements. Please see agency websites and application processes for agency-specific medical qualifications.
Cancer conditions are reviewed on a case-by case-basis.
The following cardiovascular conditions may result in disqualification:
- Use of a pacemaker or prosthetic valve
- Coronary artery disease
- Specific electrocardiogram findings, including blocks, fibrillation or brachycadia
- Valvular heart disease
- Pulmonary embolism
- Congestive heart failure
- Congenital abnormalities
- Aortic aneurysm
The following dermatological conditions may result in disqualification:
- Severe chronic dermatitis, such as eczema or psoriasis
- Cosmetic disfigurements such as severe scars or burns with results in restricted flexibility, grip, movement, etc
- Severe skin infection
Endocrine and Metabolic System
Excesses or deficiencies in hormone production that produce metabolic disturbances may interfere with job functions and become a disqualification. Disturbances may have an effect on weight, energy, or ability to handle stress. Other conditions in hormonal or metabolic function and response that may have an adverse effect on essential job functions may result in disqualification. Endocrine and metabolic conditions are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
- Must be able to hear in both ears
- In frequency range of 500-2000Hz, the deficit should not exceed 30 decibels in either ear
- At 3000Hz, the deficit should not exceed 40 decibels in either ear
- Complete hearing loss in one or both ears will result in disqualification
Hematology system conditions that may result in disqualification include:
- Bleeding disorders
- Multiple myeloma
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
Any condition that severely limits movement and has an adverse effect on performance of essential job functions will generally result in a candidate’s disqualification. An orthopedic evaluation with imaging and/or electrophysiological (EMG) studies may be necessary to determine the extent of physical limitations. Musculoskeletal conditions are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Diseases or conditions affecting the central or peripheral nervous system that impact essential job functions may be disqualifying. Conditions including a loss of cognitive function, muscle strength, motor skills or speech are most often disqualifying. A medical evaluation by a neurologist and/or neuro-psychologist may be required. Neurological conditions are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Psychiatric disorders that affect judgment or cognitive function, or any disorder that interferes with essential job functions, is likely to result in disqualification. Psychiatric conditions are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Disqualifying psychiatric disorders may include:
- Delirium, dementia, amnesia and other cognitive disorders
- Major depression
- Manic-depressive disorder or bi-polar disorder
- Panic disorder and other anxiety disorders
- Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
Respiratory system conditions that may result in disqualification include:
- Forced vital capacity (FVC) and/or Forced expiratory volume at one second (FEV1) that reflects evidence of a significant obstructive or restrictive disorder
- Asthma controlled by medication will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis
- Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB)
- Chronic bronchitis
- Lung abscess
- Spontaneous recurrent pneumothorax
- Pulmonary embolism
- Pulmonary infarction
- Lung tumors
- Corrected distant vision must be 20/20 with both eyes viewing
- Distant vision acuity must be better or equal to 20/100 in each eye without correction
- Peripheral vision must be normal
Ophthalmologic conditions that may result in disqualification include, but are not limited to:
- Problems with color vision (may require testing)
- Complete loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Corneal abrasions, dystrophy, scars or ulcers
- Retinal detachment
- Night blindness
- Double vision (diplopia)
Any disease or condition that interferes with safe and efficient job performance may be considered disqualifying. This can include conditions in the gastrointestinal and genitourinary systems, as well as head, nose, mouth, throat and neck. These conditions will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Individuals with medication requirements will undergo evaluation to determine whether drug use will adversely affect job performance. Any drugs with the potential for addiction taken for extended periods, or medication prescribed for chronic conditions, are likely to be disqualifying. These may include narcotics, amphetamines and barbiturates.
Please review specific medical requirements and disqualifications for the federal agency and job you’re interested in, as requirements may vary. If you’re currently pursuing employment with a federal agency, it’s a good idea to submit a statement from your personal physician that explains any treatment details you may have, as this makes it easier for review officers to work on case-by-case determinations.
Federal Law Enforcement Occupations
Federal law enforcement careers are available in a wide variety of departments and agencies, and include a number of different job titles. The federal employment system utilizes job series IDs, which identify job categories used across all federal agencies. Of these, approximately 40 fall under federal law enforcement. Learn more about some of the most popular federal law enforcement job series with the following job descriptions:
Job Series: 0007 — Correctional Officer
Federal agency: Bureau of Prisons
Minimum educational requirement: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
Minimum experience requirement: Three or more years of full time general experience. One year must be equivalent to the GS-04 grade level or specialized experience that indicates aptitude and effectiveness as a correctional officer.
Starting level: GS-05
Description: Correctional officers with the Federal Bureau of Prisons are responsible for the treatment of inmates and institutional security. This is achieved by enforcing rules and regulations, including facility security, conduct and custody. Officers within the federal system are tasked with maintaining control of inmates and may be authorized to carry firearms and use force, including deadly force. Correctional officers may work long, irregular hours, Sundays, unexpected overtime, holidays and unusual shifts in cases of emergency, heavy workload or limited staff.
Job Series: 0025 — Park Ranger
Federal agencies: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , Department of Interior — National Park Service, Department of Interior — US Fish and Wildlife Service
Types of park rangers: Protection, Off-highway vehicle, River, Interpretation (GS-11), Lake, Refuge/Law Enforcement/Pilot (GS-11/12)
Minimum educational requirement: None
Minimum experience requirement: Experience that is beneficial to the work of a park ranger, including habitat and resource protection, law enforcement, fire protection, interpersonal relations and natural or cultural history.
Starting level: GS-01
Description: Park rangers minimize criminal activity by enforcing federal and state laws. Rangers are also expected to manage emergencies and search and rescue missions. This position includes high physical demands.
Recent grads should also see: GS-401 Natural Resources Specialist (Ranger Recent Grad), GS-0099 Student Trainees (Park Ranger/Pathways Internship), GS-0189 Recreation Aid/Recreation Assistant
Job Series: 0083 — Police
Federal agencies: Department of Defense
Minimum educational requirement: High school diploma or equivalent
Minimum experience requirement: Three months general experience
Starting level: GS-02
Description: Department of Defense police are responsible for law enforcement and security at the federal level. Often, police control entry points or conduct patrols on federal properties. Additionally, officers may respond to crimes on federal property.
Job Series: 0085 — Security Guard
Federal agencies: Varies
Minimum educational requirement: High school diploma or equivalent
Minimum experience requirement: Three months general experience
Starting level: GS-02
Description: Security guards work with a variety of federal agencies to provide security services for infrastructure, assets, personnel and visitors. Duties may include patrol, access control and emergency management.
Job Series: 1801 — Canine Enforcement Officer
Federal agencies: Department of Homeland Security
Minimum educational requirement: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
Minimum experience requirement: Experience that demonstrates a number of abilities, including the ability to understand relevant laws and their application, analytical skills, and oral and written communication.
Starting level: GS-05
Description: Canine Enforcement Officers utilize dogs in patrol duty, often in the detection of materials, including explosives, drugs and other illicit substances.
Job Series: 1811 — Criminal Investigator
Federal agencies: Most federal agencies employ 1811 criminal investigators
Minimum educational requirement: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
Minimum experience requirement: Three years, with at least one at the equivalent of GS-04
Starting level: GS-05
Description: The most coveted and sought after federal law enforcement position. criminal investigators conduct investigations through interviews and evidence analysis. They also prepare reports and recommendations and may serve as witnesses in court proceedings. Travel is typically required.
Job Series: 1896 — Border Patrol Enforcement
Federal agencies: Customs and Border Protection
Minimum educational requirement: Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
Minimum experience requirement: One year at the equivalent of GS-04
Starting level: GS-05
Description: Border patrol agents detect and prevent the smuggling or entry of illegal aliens into the United States. They are also tasked with apprehending aliens who enter the country illegally, or those who are falsely claiming U.S. citizenship or legal status. Spanish-English bilingual ability is required.
Learn more about available job series, their requirements, and descriptions from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
The Federal Law Enforcement Pay Scale
A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is a standard requirement across the board, although each department/agency within the federal government hires and advances law enforcement professionals differently. For example, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) pays border patrol agents on the LEO schedule and starting salaries begin at the GL-7 level, while CBP officers are paid on the GS schedule and starting salaries for these professionals begin at the GS-5 level.
(Note: A number of federal law enforcement agencies have their own salary schedules, including the Capitol Police, Judicial Branch, and Secret Service Uniformed Division. Be sure to consult agencies directly to find out more about available pay scales.)
Base salary is just one factor when determining a total compensation package for federal law enforcement officers. Overtime pay, locality pay, and premium pay (Sundays, holidays, and night shifts) can significantly increase salaries for these professionals – often by $10,000 or more annually.
Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) can also greatly increase the salary of federal law enforcement officers classified as criminal investigators. This pay is similar to overtime and is offered to criminal investigators due to the number of unscheduled hours they work. LEAP is calculated as your base law enforcement salary plus 25 percent. To qualify, you schedule must be pre-approved and work an average of two hours a day of overtime. LEAP pay is typically only approved for special events, including security details and conferences.
Choosing a Federal Law Enforcement Agency
Federal law enforcement occupations are available with a variety of federal agencies, ranging from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the Department of Homeland Security. Here, you’ll learn about what major federal law enforcement agencies have to offer, and the opportunities you’re likely to find with each of them. Consider how each agency’s work may fit with your career goals and desired lifestyle to make the right choice.
A division of the Department of the Treasury, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is responsible for enforcing the laws regulating the production, importation, wholesale, importing, labeling and advertising of alcohol and tobacco. The Trade Investigations Division ensures industry compliance through investigation of suspected tax evasion, examination of certificates, prevention of misleading labeling and advertising, and more. Law enforcement professionals working with the TTB are likely to be investigators or alcohol and tobacco tax specialists.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives investigates and prevents the illegal use and trafficking of firearms and explosives, arson, and bombings, as well as the illegal diversion of tobacco and alcohol. The ATF’s mission is to protect communities from illegal actions relating to alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives.
The ATF has nearly 5,000 employees, including about 2,500 special agents and 800 industry operations investigators. ATF special agents investigate federal law violations within the agency’s jurisdiction. Industry operations investigators conduct investigations and inspections of industries and individuals regulated by the ATF, identifying falsifications and violations that may require further action.
A division of the Department of State, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security provides safety and security for U.S. foreign policy. The bureau is responsible for protecting foreign dignitaries and officials visiting the U.S., investigating passport and visa fraud, and personnel security investigations. There are a number of opportunities available within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Law enforcement professionals may work as special agents, security engineering officers, security protective specialists, security technical specialists, or diplomatic couriers.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs provides services to approximately 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. These services include natural resources management, social services, economic development, and court administration. The BIA also provides law enforcement services through the Division of Law Enforcement. Operations within this division include telecommunications, uniform police, and criminal investigations. The division provides direct oversight of Bureau programs and technical assistance, as well as oversight of law enforcement programs developed with tribes under certain policies.
The Bureau of Land Management is tasked with the protection and management of public land resources, including timber, minerals, fish and wildlife, and archaeological sites. With many federal laws and regulations that apply to public lands and resources, there are a number of law enforcement needs within the bureau.
There are approximately 200 law enforcement rangers and 70 special agents working with the Bureau of Land Management. They prevent, detect and investigate crimes that affect public land resources. These may include theft of mineral resources, dumping, theft and vandalism of archaeological or paleontological resources, off-highway vehicle use, native plant theft and wildlife arson.
BLM rangers typically patrol and make contact with the public to enforce federal laws, and they work with special agents to investigate illegal activity. BLM special agents investigate crimes committed on public lands or those involving public resources, sometimes with long-term investigations using undercover officers, surveillance, and informants.
The Bureau of Reclamation is a water management agency best known for protecting the environment and water structures, including dams, power plants and canals in the western states of the U.S. The Security, Safety, and Law Enforcement office within the Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for protecting the public, employees, information and facilities of the Bureau.
Law enforcement professionals working in the Security, Safety, and Law Enforcement office operate across multiple offices and programs, including the security office, information share and law enforcement support office, safety and health services, dam security office, special agent in charge and even the Hoover Dam Police Department.
The Capitol Police is known as “America’s Police Department.” This federal law enforcement agency primarily protects visitors to the U.S. Congress and Capitol. Officers perform patrol duties and enforce laws, ordinances, rules and regulations. Officers will also conduct preliminary investigations of crimes and perform protective services guiding federally owned property, equipment and material.
The CIA protects the United States — and the Security Protective Service protects the CIA. In this service, officers protect CIA personnel, information and facilities. Primarily, officers control access to facilities, manage emergencies and maintain public order. Officers may work in a variety of divisions, including the 24-hour Security Operations Center, Visitor Control Center or the Threat Management Unit.
The Defense Logistics Agency provides security for combat support, protecting the 5.2 million items supplied to American war fighters. These items include jet fuel, groceries, and other important supplies that make it possible for military services to operate.
DLA police officers protect installations and facilities to prevent and prosecute violence and destruction against essential supplies. Responsibilities include providing facilities security, defense against terrorism, crime and espionage, access control, investigation, and acting as first-responders in emergency situations.
The Bureau of Industry and Security protects U.S. national security and economic interests by enforcing boycotts, safety laws and other regulations within the Department of Commerce. Enforcement professionals with the Bureau of Industry and Security typically work to stop and prosecute export violators. They enable legitimate trading while preventing and bringing justice to those who do not comply with export control and anti-boycott requirements.
The Department of Energy Office of Enforcement ensures the safety and security of nuclear facilities and their workers through essential enforcement actions. Personnel conduct enforcement investigations and practices to ensure that facilities and contractors comply with safety and security regulations. Services provided by the office and enforcement personnel include worker health and safety enforcement, nuclear safety enforcement, security enforcement, and noncompliance tracking.
The National Nuclear Security Administration manages the military application of nuclear science to enhance national security. The administration is responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, non-proliferation through detection, securing and disposal of nuclear material, counterterrorism and counter-proliferation, emergency response, and nuclear propulsion plant operation. Other activities include the transportation of government-owned nuclear materials, which may include nuclear weapons, plutonium or enriched uranium.
Personnel with the National Nuclear Security Administration ranges from engineers to foreign policy specialists. Those working in law enforcement within this administration are typically tasked with security or the safe transportation of nuclear materials.
Created in response to the September 11th attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was formed in November 2002. DHS is responsible for protecting the U.S. and its territories from domestic emergencies, including terrorist attacks, natural disasters and major accidents. DHS encompasses several agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Secret Service.
The Department of Homeland Security has more than 200,000 employees, and with a number of agencies under its supervision, it offers a large variety of occupations. Law enforcement occupations within DHS include cyber security professionals, the Federal Protective Service and opportunities securing borders, enforcing immigration and customs, individual protection, and infrastructure security with Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs enforcement, and the Secret Service.
The HUD Office of Security and Emergency Planning protects HUD personnel and property with emergency operations, IT security, security clearances and safeguards. Within this office, you’ll find three divisions: Emergency Planning and Management, Security, and Protective Services. Law enforcement professionals within this office may be responsible for essential operations, including security clearance processes, emergency planning and personnel protection.
Known as the FinCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network safeguards the U.S. financial system from illicit use and money laundering. Using financial intelligence and data, FinCEN is able to collect, analyze and share strategic financial information with authorities. FinCEN works to uncover money laundering schemes and support financial crime investigations with the help of a number of specialists and analysts, including those in intelligence research and regulatory enforcement.
The Drug Enforcement Administration investigates and enforces drug laws and regulations, including fighting against drug smuggling and use in the U.S. The DEA targets drug organizations and leaders growing, manufacturing and distributing controlled substances in the United States, and it develops programs designed to reduce the availability of illegal drugs within the U.S.
The DEA has more than 10,000 employees, and more than half of them are special agents. A highly competitive position, DEA special agents investigate and prosecute drug trafficking and other federal offenses. Another popular law enforcement position within the DEA, diversion investigators conduct investigations of rogue online pharmacies and take action against suspected sources of illicit controlled substances.
The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with protecting human health and the environment — developing regulations and requirements that hold entities legally accountable for environmental violations. Individuals and corporations who commit environmental crimes are pursued by the Criminal Enforcement office within the EPA.
With more than 350 special agents, forensic scientists and forensic technicians, the EPA is able to investigate, analyze and share evidence related to serious environmental crimes. Most law enforcement professionals within the EPA will work as special agents, enforcing U.S. environmental laws.
Perhaps the most well known of all federal law enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates criminal activity and provides internal intelligence. The FBI addresses the most serious threats facing the U.S., including terrorism, street gangs, cyber attacks, fraud, espionage and serial killers.
The FBI has more than 35,000 employees, including 13,598 special agents and 21,000 support professionals, including intelligence analysts, scientists and other investigative professionals. Law enforcement professionals working with the FBI may find work as FBI special agents, who conduct sensitive national security investigations, and may even serve on the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, addressing extraordinary hostage crises and other law enforcement situations.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons administers the federal prison system and manages federal criminal offenders. The bureau operates more than 116 institutions nationwide and is responsible for more than 215,000 federal inmates.
With nearly 40,000 employees working directly with inmates or in operation, support and administrative roles, there are a number of opportunities available for those interested in a law enforcement career with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Common job titles include correctional officer, case manager, drug treatment specialist, recreation specialist and training instructor.
The Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement protects wildlife and plant resources. The office enforces federal laws working to recover, conserve, preserve, safeguard and promote wildlife and plants within the U.S. Using law enforcement, the Fish and Wildlife Service protects against threats to wildlife resources. These include habitat destruction, illegal trade, environmental contaminants and unlawful commercial exploitation.
The Office of Law Enforcement employs 261 special agents and 140 wildlife inspectors. Most actively work to prevent, detect, and investigate wildlife crimes and violations of wildlife trade and resource regulations. Law enforcement professionals working for the Fish and Wildlife Service may break up smuggling rings, protect wildlife from environmental hazards, inspect wildlife shipments, combat illegal trafficking and solve wildlife crimes using forensic science.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates the sale and manufacturing of food, drugs and other sensitive materials in the United States. The Office of Criminal Investigations investigates criminal violations of federal statutes and laws, especially those that may endanger public health.
Approximately 180 special agents work within the Office of Criminal Investigations, using law enforcement methods to investigate criminal allegations within the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, including investigating claims of tampering and problems with product safety.
The Forest Service protects 192 million acres of National Forest System land, as well as the public, employees and natural resources within them. Law enforcement and investigations personnel are responsible for upholding federal regulations and laws designed to protect the resources within the Forest Service.
Uniformed law enforcement officers with the Forest Service are the front line of defense. Often tasked with providing emergency medical aid, traffic law enforcement, fish and wildlife regulation enforcement, and investigations of accidents and theft, this is a varied position that allows officers to protect natural resources as well as employees and visitors. Forest Service special agents conduct criminal investigations, looking into violations of Forest Service regulations and laws. Special agents often work with other law enforcement agencies in investigations that may include drug trafficking or domestic terrorism.
The Government Printing Office is responsible for information products of the U.S. government, including U.S. passports, official Congressional publications and other important documents. The GPO police branch works to provide security for both personnel and assets within the GPO. GPO Police practice security investigations, anti-terrorism measures, patrols, access control, and more.
The IRS Criminal Investigation branch investigates criminal violations of the U.S. tax code and related financial crimes. With approximately 3,700 employees worldwide, 3,600 are special agents with investigative jurisdiction in tax, money laundering, and Bank Secrecy Act laws.
IRS special agents investigate compliance with tax laws and identify individuals and corporations that deliberately violate the law. Serving as a special agent requires not only excellent investigative skills, but also great analytical abilities, as financial investigators will often be required to scrutinize sophisticated financial records. CI special agents may use specialized forensic technology to recover computer evidence as well.
The Mint Police work to ensure the safety of U.S. Mint properties, employees, visitors and financial assets. This includes more than $100 billion in gold, silver and coinage located in six different facilities. The Mint police also safeguard more than 2,800 Mint employees and thousands of visitors every day, 24-hours a day.
The National Institutes of Health Division of Police protects scientific research and the NIH research community, guarding and protecting against criminal activity, personal attacks, and loss of assets. Law enforcement professionals working with the NIH Division of Police are responsible for screening, security, emergency communications, law enforcement and more.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement protects wildlife, habitat and fisheries by enforcing federal fishery regulations, domestic law,s and international treaties. With this enforcement, NOAA protects global marine resources and supports sustainable fishing activities.
Special agents and enforcement officers within NOAA conduct patrols, inspections, and work on criminal and civil investigations. They also develop outreach and compliance assistance to ensure that fisheries and other parties are aware of and understand marine laws and regulations.
National Park Service law enforcement is responsible for promoting the protection of resources and visitors through stewardship and enforcement of statutes and regulations. Park rangers working with the National Park Service law enforcement division protect park resources and visitors through visitor education and informational services, appropriate utilization of facilities, emergency medicine, search and rescue, and fire suppression.
In addition to rangers, the National Park Service Law Enforcement Office employs special agents who conduct complex criminal investigations of offenses committed on or against National Park Service properties.
America’s code makers and code-breakers work to provide information to the U.S. with the National Security Agency. The NSA develops important strategic and tactical information that is shared with the Department of Defense. Investigation and enforcement professionals within the NSA safeguard the agency’s information and the people who develop.
Law enforcement personnel with the NSA typically work as investigators or police officers. NSA investigators conduct background investigations and prepare reports on findings to ensure accurate intelligence. NSA police officers support the mission of the NSA by protecting assets, responding to emergencies, patrolling and controlling access to property, and working on incident management.
As the headquarters for the Department of Defense, the Pentagon is a significant government asset in need of protection. The Pentagon Force Protection Agency is a civilian defense agency tasked with protecting the Pentagon building, its facilities and occupants and visitors against a variety of threats, including terrorism and criminal activity.
The Pentagon Police provide a number of services, including access control, parking management and emergency services. Professionals investigate suspicious activity, and may interview, arrest, and testify in court against suspects of crimes against the Pentagon.
Mail fraud, theft, dangerous mail, and other incidents in the postal service are serious crimes. The Postal Inspection Service protects the U.S. mail system’s employees, customers and infrastructure by enforcing postal laws that deter illegal and dangerous use of the postal service. U.S. postal inspectors and investigators work to enforce federal laws related to the U.S. mail service through security, mail escort, protective functions and even forensic science.
The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex. It includes 19 museums, nine research centers, and even the National Zoo. Its collections include hundreds of thousands of valuable pieces of history, art, information and wildlife — not to mention personnel and visitors — and the Office of Protection Services works to defend them all against security threats.
There are more than 700 employees working in the Smithsonian Institute Office of Protection Services. Law enforcement professionals office provide a variety of security services, including security management, supervision, anti terrorism measures, intrusion detection, emergency management, exhibit security and ID management.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration provides independent oversight of IRS activities, including threats of violence against the IRS, corrupt interference with federal tax administration and lapses in IRS employee integrity. Law enforcement professionals within this office will work as special agents to investigate fraud, abuse and other deficiencies within the IRS.
The oldest American federal law enforcement agency, the U.S. Marshals Service provides law enforcement to U.S. federal courts. U.S. Marshals manage fugitive operations, court security, federal arrest warrants, and federal prisoner transport.
The U.S. Marshals Service is among the most competitive agencies for new hires, and it’s reported that less than 5 percent of qualified applicants will be hired by the agency. The service does not regularly accept applications for deputy U.S. marshals and hires on an exclusive and limited basis. Deputy U.S. marshals perform fugitive and tactical operations as well as judicial security.
U.S. Military Police and Investigations
Branches of the U.S. military maintain their own police force and investigation departments, including:
- United States Army Criminal Investigation Command
- United States Army Military Police Corps
- Department of the Army Police
- United States Army Corrections Command
- Army Counterintelligence
- Naval Criminal Investigative Service
- United States Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division
- Department of the Navy Police
- United States Coast Guard Investigative Service
- Air Force Office of Special Investigations
- Air Force Security Forces Center
- Department of the Air Force Police
These organizations are tasked with investigating crimes within U.S. military branches along with providing security for U.S. military personnel and infrastructure. Individuals working within U.S. military police or investigative departments may work as police officers, security personnel, investigating detectives, or special agents. Duties may include access control, security, and investigation of serious crimes.
The Veterans Affairs Office of Security and Law Enforcement maintains protection of veterans, visitors, staff, as well as infrastructure within VA campuses. Most law enforcement professionals with the VA work as police, special agents or inspectors to protect the department, its people, and assets.
Though these agencies may be among the most popular and high profile in federal law enforcement, you certainly aren’t limited to the opportunities they have available. Federal law enforcement opportunities are open throughout the federal government, with law enforcement agencies operating in every federal department. Learn about additional federal law enforcement agencies and their available career opportunities at USA.gov.
Resources for Further Investigation
- Bureau of Prisons Student Opportunities
- Classifying General Schedule Positions (Job Series Descriptions)
- Congressional Budget Office: Comparing the Pay of Federal and Nonfederal Law Enforcement Officers
- Department of Justice: Law Students
- Drug Enforcement Administration Careers at DEA: Student and Entry-Level
- FBI Student Center
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers
- Federal Occupations by College Major
- General Schedule Qualification Standards, Criminal Investigation Series 1811
- Homeland Security Job Opportunities for Students
- Intelligence.gov: Degrees Desired by Agency
- Pathways for Students and Recent Graduates to Federal Careers
- Pay and Leave
- USA.gov: Law Enforcement and Corrections-Related Agencies
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection Student Programs