Careers with Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), federal agencies employ about 120,000 full-time law enforcement officers who are authorized to make arrests and carry firearms. The number of federal law enforcement officers increased nearly 15,000 (14 percent) between 2004 and 2008.

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Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

Federal law enforcement careers can be found in nearly every agency of the federal government.

Executive Branch

The executive branch of the government houses the largest number of federal agencies, including:

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of the Army
  • Department of the Navy
  • Department of the Air Force
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of State
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Veterans Affairs

Legislative and Judicial Branches

The Legislative Branch is home to the United States Capitol Police, while the Judicial Branch overseeing the United States Supreme Court Police and the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services.

Independent Law Enforcement Agencies

There are also a number of independent federal law enforcement agencies, including:

  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • United States Postal Service
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Amtrak
  • Federal Reserve Bank


Career Paths in Federal Law Enforcement

Individuals may pursue a number of careers with federal law enforcement agencies, such as investigation, security, police response and patrol, customs enforcement, and corrections.

As such, careers in federal law enforcement may include covert operations with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); investigative work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); corrections work at the Federal Bureau of Prisons; security work with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); immigration and customs enforcement work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); and park security/enforcement with the National Park Service, just to name a few.

As of 2008 (the most recent available statistics), the BJS reported that the largest number of federal offices in the U.S. performed criminal investigations and enforcement duties (37 percent), followed by officers involved in police response and patrol (23 percent) and those involved in immigrations and customs inspections (15 percent).

With the exception of inspectors general, 24 federal agencies employed 96 percent of all federal officers. The largest employers of federal law enforcement officers were the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. These two agencies employed about two-thirds of all officers.

Federal law enforcement agencies within the Department of Justice include:

  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • United States Marshals Service

The Department of Homeland Security, which was created in 2002 by an act of Congress following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, now houses the following agencies:

  • United States Coast Guard
  • Secret Service
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • Transportation Security Administration (Air Marshals)

The Department of the Interior oversees the National Park Service and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, both of which have law enforcement divisions, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the U.S. Forest Service, which also has law enforcement capabilities.

Federal Law Enforcement Career Requirements

Careers in federal law enforcement are challenging, many times demanding a great deal of mental, emotional and physical strength. Individuals interested in attaining careers in federal law enforcement must meet a number of strict, entry-level requirements, including passing physical and medical assessments.

Depending on the position and federal law enforcement agency, candidates must also meet a number of pre-employment requirements, including a drug screen, a polygraph examination, and a thorough background investigation.

Individuals for federal law enforcement jobs must generally be between the ages of 21 and 36, and they must possess a valid driver’s license.

There are a number of employment disqualifiers for federal law enforcement careers, as well. These generally include:

  • Felony convictions
  • Misdemeanor domestic violence convictions
  • Illegal drug use, sale or possession
  • Failure to register with the Selective Service (males only)

A background in criminal investigations, law enforcement, or military service is often preferred for entry-level federal law enforcement careers, although individuals often qualify if they hold a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university. Common degree programs pursued by individuals interested in pursuing federal law enforcement include:

  • Criminal justice
  • Sociology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Criminology
  • Police science
  • Homeland security
  • Emergency management
  • Public safety
  • Organizational leadership
  • Public administration

Training is a mandatory requirement for all federal law enforcement careers, with the majority of initial training taking place at the Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), which has operations in Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Mexico. The FLETC services as an interagency training center for U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state, tribal and international agencies.

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