Career Guide: ATF Agent

The criminal justice field features two concentration areas: law enforcement and legal services. Agents employed at the federal U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF or ATFE) operate under the law enforcement umbrella.

ATF agents are highly trained to perform the daunting, dangerous work of investigating violent crimes and terrorist acts related to arson, explosives, firearms, and alcohol and tobacco diversions. This page can help you decide if becoming an ATF agent suits you. Read on for information regarding job duties, educational requirements, salary and benefits, resources, and the process of pursuing this exciting and rewarding career.

What Does an ATF Agent Do?

ATF agents' criminal investigations involve making arrests, interviewing suspects and witnesses, executing search warrants, gathering and analyzing evidence, and surveillance. They also testify in court or before grand juries on behalf of the federal government and prepare investigative case reports. Depending on the agent's assignment, they may also travel for work.

ATF agents investigate violent crimes and terrorist acts related to arson, explosives, firearms, and alcohol and tobacco diversions

Agents work in local ATF offices within field divisions across the country and in several U.S. territories. Field divisions may cover multiple states and territories, such as the Seattle Field Division, which covers Washington, Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, and Oregon. By contrast, the New York Field Division covers only the state of New York.

Agents also staff ATF Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and international offices in Canada, El Salvador, Europe, and Mexico.

Click on the website link below for more details about the job.

ATF Agent Job Description

How to Become an ATF Agent

Steps For Becoming an ATF Agent

Step 1:

Learn more about the profession at the ATF website to see if it's a good fit for you.

Step 2:

Earn a bachelor's degree or higher in law enforcement or criminal justice.

Step 3:

Pass a pre-employment physical task test, which includes sit-ups, push-ups, and timed runs.

Step 4:

Pass the ATF special agent examination and the ATF special agent applicant assessment.

Step 5:

Complete the criminal investigator training program and special agent basic training.

Learn more about the criminal justice system and degree options for ATF agents by reviewing the following web pages:

ATF Agent Salary and Job Growth

As federal employees, ATF agents receive pay according to a set schedule, with pay increases pursuant to length of time employed. Factors such as military records, prior experience, education level, and location of work also affect salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual salary for federal government agents is $87,130 and projects 5% job growth for all criminal investigators.

Check the website link below for more information on salary and job growth.

ATF Agent Salary: What You'll Earn

Take the Next Steps

The links below offer detailed information about degree programs — associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in criminal justice, along with bachelor's degrees in law enforcement — and jobs available to graduates. They can help you take the first step toward an exciting and rewarding career.

Criminal Justice Degree & Career Information

Visit this page for an overview of criminal justice and law enforcement degree programs — listed by degree and by state — and potential career paths.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Aspiring ATF agents can find additional information and support through professional organizations and other online resources, starting with the ATF's website, which explains the bureau's various career opportunities and how to qualify and apply for them. Professional organizations provide useful information on current topics in law enforcement and related resources.

For example, the ATF Association comprises current and former ATF agents and provides support and assistance to its members. Online training and publications are available on the National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center site, covering topics including federal law, anti-terrorism, and First Amendment rights.

  • ATF.gov The ATF's website provides critical information about becoming an agent, along with resources and services for ATF agents and other criminal justice and law enforcement professionals.
  • ATF Association The ATFA connects ATF colleagues, lobbies Congress regarding issues important to the ATF community, and posts information about current ATF issues. Member benefits include educational discounts and networking opportunities.
  • National Criminal Intelligence Resource Center Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, the NCIRC website features resources for law enforcement officers, including training materials and technical assistance.