How to Become an ATF Agent

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (referred to as ATF or ATFE) is a complex, multi-faceted federal law enforcement agency. This agency establishes and maintains partnerships with a wide array of public safety agencies, law enforcement agencies, communities, and even private industry to protect our communities from:

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  • Acts of arsons and bombings
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Criminal organizations
  • Illegal use and storage of explosives
  • Illegal use and trafficking of firearms
  • The illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products
  • Violent criminals



Today’s ATFE

Today, the ATFE is organized into a number of enforcement areas:

Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement – Alcohol and tobacco enforcement investigates the diversion of alcohol and tobacco products from its legal distribution system. Individuals who engage in diversion may smuggle alcohol and tobacco products from a low-tax state to sell to a high-tax state; they may smuggle it across international borders to sell them illegally in the U.S.; and they may produce counterfeit products or sell products illegally over the Internet. It is estimated that diversion efforts cost the U.S. nearly $5 billion in revenue each year.

Firearms Enforcement – The agents of the ATF’s firearms enforcement focus their investigative priorities on narcotics traffickers, armed violent offenders, narco-terrorists, career criminals, violent gangs, and domestic and international arms traffickers.

Within the ATF’s firearms enforcement division is the National Integrated Ballistic Identification Network (NIBIN), a program designed to identify, target, and prosecute shooters and their sources of crime guns through a cooperative effort of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Explosives Enforcement  – ATF agents are responsible for administering and enforcing the criminal and regulatory provisions of federal laws related to bombs, explosives, and arson.

This is accomplished through a number of resources, specialists, programs and teams:

    • Bombs/Explosives
      • Accelerant and Explosives Detection Canines
      • Certified Explosive Specialists
      • Criminal Investigative Analysis
      • Explosive Enforcement Officers
      • Explosive Research and Development
      • International and National Response Teams
      • National Explosives Task Force (NETF)


  • Arson
    • Bomb Arson Tracking System
    • Certified Fire Investigators
    • International and National Response Teams
    • Accelerant and Arson Detection Canines


ATFE Careers: How to Become an ATF Agent

ATF special agents are responsible for investigating federal law related to firearms, explosives, alcohol and tobacco diversion, and arson, and their job duties include everything from performing surveillance and interviewing suspects and witnesses to making arrests and searching for physical evidence. As such, ATF agent jobs require highly trained and highly skilled individuals who possess a number of qualities and traits.

Candidates for ATF jobs must be United States citizens; they must possess a valid driver’s license; and they must be between the ages of 21 and 36 at the time of appointment. Although candidates are not required to possess a formal college degree beyond a high school diploma, it is quite common for individuals seeking to pursue a career as an ATF agent to complete a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, criminology, police science, or a similar program.

Requirements for employment for ATF agent jobs include the successful completion of:

  • A background investigation for a top-secret security clearance
  • A drug screening
  • A field panel interview
  • A medical examination, including a vision and hearing test
  • A polygraph examination
  • A writing sample
  • The ATFE pre-employment physical task test
  • The ATFE special agent applicant assessment test
  • The ATFE special agent applicant questionnaire
  • The ATFE special agent exam

In addition to ATF agents, individuals may also apply for a number of ATFE jobs, including:

Industry Operations Investigators – Responsible for conducting investigations and inspections pertaining to the firearms and explosives industry

Forensic Chemists and Investigator Auditors – Participate in processing evidence, conducting audits in criminal investigations, assisting ATFE special agents and investigators, and testifying as expert witnesses

Intelligence Research Specialists – Collect, evaluate, analyze, and extract information for investigations involving terrorist activities, arson rings, and organized crime and compile it into reports and graphs

The History of the ATF

The ATF has had a long history in the United States, dating all the way back to 1941, when the newly commissioned Alcohol Tax Unit began enforcing the National Firearms Act. The ATF officially became an independent bureau in 1972, operating under the Department of Treasury’s Office of Enforcement, Tariff, and Trade Affairs, and Operations. (It is now part of the Department of Justice). Since then, this often-highly visible agency has been a major player in some of our nation’s most historic events:

  • 1993: Waco, Texas
  • 1993: World Trade Center bombing
  • 1995: Oklahoma City bombing
  • 2011: September 11th terrorist attack on New York City and Washington D.C.

This massive federal agency, as it has taken on additional operations, has grown exponentially. In 1973, the ATF had 1,622 special agents and a budget of less than $74 million. By FY2012, there were 2,442 special agents and a budget of $1.15 billion.

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