Federal law enforcement is a massive field that includes no less than 132,000 full-time federal law enforcement officers working in 83 federal agencies, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Even though government law enforcement jobs follow a standardized salary schedule, all those agencies have different needs specific to the agency’s particular orientation, and along with that different requirements and demands for the officers, agents and investigators in their ranks. So across all those federal agencies, you’ll actually find law enforcement professionals with different duties can actually be compensated quite differently.
Jobs falling under the federal law enforcement umbrella include everything from criminal investigations to corrections to conventional police patrol duties to court operations to investigations into high crimes related to everything from fraud to crimes with national security implications. Many require top-level security clearances and advanced levels of education and extensive training.
To account for all this, federal agencies often use different federal government pay tables – the GS (General Schedule) and GL (LEO) tables. And within those pay tables, pay grades tend to vary significantly based on the agency and the qualifications of the law enforcement officers working within it. Confused yet? You’re not alone. The federal government is a labyrinth of information that’s not always so easy to navigate.
But we’ve done the legwork and have broken it all down to help you better understand which federal agencies employ federal law enforcement officers and how they’re paid in each agency. Keep reading to learn more about where a career in federal law enforcement can take you and how much you’ll be paid when you get there:
Understanding the Structure and Scope of Federal Law Enforcement
First, a breakdown of which federal agencies employ federal law enforcement officers.
The large majority of federal law enforcement officers work within the Department of Homeland Security (62,125) and the Department of Justice (43,666), with the remaining working in other executive branches, independent agencies, and the judicial and legislative branches.
Within the Department of Homeland Security, federal law enforcement officers work in the following departments/agencies:
- Customs and Border Protection (37,482 law enforcement officers)
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (11,779)
- Secret Service (5,226)
- Federal Protective Service (900)
- Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mount Weather Police (84)
And within the Department of Justice, the following departments/agencies employ federal law enforcement officers:
- Federal Bureau of Prisons (16,993)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (12,925)
- Drug Enforcement Administration (4,388)
- U.S. Marshals Service (3,359)
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive (2,562)
The Department of the Interior is another federal agency in which a large number of federal law enforcement officers work:
- National Park Service Rangers (1,416)
- Fish and Wildlife Service (603)
- Park Police (547)
- Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Service (277)
- Bureau of Land Management (255)
- Bureau of Reclamation (21)
Thanks to the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the Department of the Treasury is home to more than 3,000 federal law enforcement officers:
- IRS, Criminal Investigations Division (2,655)
- U.S. Mint Police (316)
- Bureau of Engraving and Printing Police (207)
Other federal agencies in which federal law enforcement officers work include:
- Department of Veterans Affairs Police Department (3,175)
- U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (2,324)
- Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (1,049)
- U.S. Capitol Police (1,637)
- Supreme Court of the U.S. (139)
- Tennessee Valley Authority Police (145)
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Protective Services (62)
- Government Publishing Office, Uniform Police Branch (41)
- Amtrak Police Department (305)
- Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigation (187)
- National Institutes of Health, Division of Police (94)
- Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration (363)
- Department of Defense, Pentagon Force Protection Agency (725)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement (154)
- Bureau of Industry and Security (103)
- Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (648)
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management oversees and maintains all federal government pay tables, which include the standard salaries for federal government employees.
Federal law enforcement officers, depending on the agency in which they work or the job within the agency (some agencies use multiple pay tables), are paid using one of the following pay tables:
GL – Law Enforcement Officer Pay Scale
The LEO pay scale includes pay grades GL-3 to GL-10, with ten pay steps within each pay grade, although most entry-law LEO positions start at the GL-5/7 grade:
- GL-3: $28,770 – $35,961
- GL-4: $32,297 – $40,37
- GL-5: $37,141 – $46,177
- GL-6: $39,162 – $49,233
- GL-7: $42,273 – $53,460
- GL-8: $44,064 – $56,457
- GL-9: $47,148 – $60,837
- GL-10: $51,921 – $66,996
Because the LEO pay scale doesn’t advance beyond the GL-10 level, in many agencies, like Customs and Border Protection, law enforcement officers move to the General Schedule-11 pay grade once they move beyond the GL-10 grade.
ISLE (Inspection Service Law Enforcement) Pay Scale
One of the only outliers in terms of pay are postal inspectors through the U.S. Postal Service. These federal law enforcement officers are paid using an ISLE (Inspection Service Law Enforcement) pay scale that is similar to the LEO pay scale. This different pay scale reflects the U.S. Postal Service’s role as an independent government corporation.
Federal Salaries: GS – General Schedule Classification
General Schedule (GS) – The GS pay scale is the most frequently used pay scale for federal employees and consists of 15 pay grades with 10 pay steps within each grade. In general, federal agencies adhere to the following range:
- GS-5 to GS-7: Most entry-level positions
- GS-8 to GS-12: Mid-level positions
- GS-13 to GS-15: Top-level supervisory positions
As of 2020, the GS pay scale included the following salary ranges:
- GS-5: $30,113 – $39,149
- GS-6: $33,567 – $43,638
- GS-7: $37,301 – $48,488
- GS-8: $41,310 – $53,703
- GS-9: $45,627 – $59,316
- GS-10: $50,246 – $65,321
- GS-11: $55,204 – $71,764
- GS-12: $66,167 – $86,021
- GS-13: $78,681 – $102,288
- GS-14: $92,977 – $120,868
- GS-15: $109,366 – $142,810
Factors That Influence Salaries Among Law Enforcement Officers
Base salaries often represent just a portion of a federal law enforcement officer’s salary. Here’s why:
The federal government’s General Schedule (GS) and Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) pay tables also include locality pay tables for specific states and metro areas throughout the country that have significantly higher costs of living than the national average. Law enforcement officers working in one of these areas are paid using the applicable locality pay table that reflects this higher cost of living.
For example, the GL-5 salary range is $37,141 – $46,177, but in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area ($46,419 – $56,457) and Las Vegas metro area ($43,708 – $53,160) it’s much higher, as both of these metro areas have a higher cost of living than the national average.
“Premium pay” among federal law enforcement officers is commonplace and includes higher salaries when working Sunday, holiday, and night shifts.
“Availability pay” (often called LEAP – law enforcement availability pay) may also be paid out to federal law enforcement officers who are categorized as criminal investigators or game law enforcement officers. For example, the FBI’s special agents are considered criminal investigators. Because of the substantial hours criminal investigators are often required to work, an agency may provide them with availability pay, which is an additional 25% of their base salary.
Salary and employment data compiled by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which federal law enforcement officers work.
All salary and employment data accessed September 2020.