DEA Agent Careers and Education

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing controlled substance regulations in the United States. DEA agents are tasked with reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances by thwarting organizations and the people who grow, manufacture and distribution them.

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There are 222 domestic offices and 21 divisions within the DEA. The DEA also has 86 foreign offices throughout 67 countries. Today’s DEA is a major federal law enforcement agency, with more than 5,000 special agents and a budget of more than $2 billion. This agency is organized into a number of units, including:

  • Asset forfeiture
  • Forensic sciences
  • Money laundering
  • State and local task forces
  • Foreign cooperative investigations
  • Cannabis eradication
  • High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA)
  • Aviation


What is the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Primary Responsibilities?

The primary responsibilities of the DEA include:

  • Investigating and preparing for the prosecution of those who violate controlled substance laws
  • Investigating and preparing for the prosecution of criminals and drug gangs who perpetrate violence
  • Seizing and forfeiting assets associated with illicit drug trafficking
  • Enforcing the Controlled Substances Act provisions that deal with the manufacture, dispensing and distribution of controlled substances
  • Coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on mutual drug enforcements efforts and interstate/international investigations that may extend beyond limited or local jurisdictions and resources
  • Developing programs with local, state and federal agencies that are designed to reduce the availability of illicit drugs in the U.S. market
  • Serving as a liaison between the United Nations, Interpol, and similar organizations related to international drug control


What is a DEA Agent? DEA Agent Careers

DEA Agents may be DEA special agents or diversion investigators:

DEA Special Agents

DEA special agents are investigative professionals responsible for:

  • Conducting criminal investigations
  • Conducting surveillance of criminals
  • Identifying and infiltrating drug channels
  • Identifying and apprehending drug traffickers
  • Preparing evidence for prosecution individuals

Diversion Investigators

Diversion investigators are responsible for conducting investigations involving the distribution, illicit sale, and abuse of controlled substances. Diversion investigators perform investigative work, gather data, research and analyze data, identify the significance of the data, and develop solutions.

Employment Requirements and Qualifications for DEA Agent Jobs

The employment process for DEA special agents includes:

  • Written assessment
  • Panel interview
  • Urinalysis (drug screening)
  • Medical examination
  • Physical task test
  • Polygraph examination
  • Psychological assessment
  • Comprehensive background investigation

DEA agents must:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be a United States citizen
  • Possess a valid driver’s license
  • Be in top physical condition
  • Have excellent vision and hearing

Candidates for DEA agent jobs must possess a bachelor’s (with a GPA of 2.9 or better), master’s, LLB, or JD degree. Typical degrees for DEA agents include: criminal justice, criminology, forensic psychology, sociology, and emergency management.

If candidates do not possess a degree from an accredited college or university, they may qualify for DEA agent jobs if they possess specialized experience conducting investigations related to narcotics or drugs, conducting surveillance or undercover work, or apprehending and arresting individuals, OR if they possess at least 3 years of experience in areas such as telecommunications, foreign language fluency, technical/mechanical information systems, military, or pilot/maritime.

Most DEA agents are hired at the GL-7 or GL-9 federal level, which has a salary range of between $38,511 and $55,413, as of 2012. DEA agents, in addition to a base salary, may also receive locality pay and Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP). LEAP pay includes 25 percent above the base salary.

DEA Training Requirements

All new DEA agents must complete a standard and mandatory course of training through the DEA Training Academy. The DEA Training Academy, which is located in Quantico, Virginia, includes training rooms, computer classrooms, management classrooms, and a 250-bed dormitory.

DEA Basic Agent Training Program

New hires attend the DEA’s Basic Agent Training program, an 18-week training program that includes academic instruction in areas such as report writing, law, drug recognition, and automated information systems, as well as leadership and ethics courses. Large components of this training program include the physical fitness and defensive tactics program, which concentrates on both compliant and non-compliant arrest scenarios, and the 122-hour firearms training program. Students must receive at least 80 percent on all academic exams and pass the firearms qualification exam and physical task tests to graduate.

Other training programs conducted at the DEA Training Academy include:

  • Practical applications training
  • Tactical training
  • Firearms training
  • Legal training
  • Intelligence training

Basic Diversion Investigator Training Program

DEA Diversion investigators also receive training at the DEA Training Academy. The Basic Diversion Investigator (BDI) training program is a 12-week program that is divided into 3 segments:

  • Investigations
  • Compliance Investigations
  • Scheduled Investigations

The curriculum emphasizes legal instruction, case studies, and modern software tools and a number of key areas, including pharmaceutical and chemical control, drug scheduling, and drug identification. Work in the BDI is focused on distribution operations, auditing techniques, report writing, security issues, and legal considerations.

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