A Career as an ATF Agent in the Criminal Justice System Can Offer Promising Earning Opportunities
Agents working for the federal Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF or ATFE) detect, investigate, respond to, prosecute, and prevent acts of terrorism and violent crimes involving firearms, explosives, and illegal alcohol and tobacco diversions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists ATF agents under “police and detectives” and reports the median annual salary for federal government employees as $87,130. Agents are eligible to receive additional Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) for overtime worked. Keep reading to find out more about LEAP and how ATF agent salaries and benefits are determined.
How Much Do ATF Agents Earn?
The table below shows approximate base salaries for ATF agents. As federal employees, agents are paid pursuant to the law enforcement officer (LEO) general schedule for salary guidelines. The general schedule rates consist of grades (GSs) and steps within each grade, with pay increases pursuant to length of time employed.
Most new agents begin at the GS-5 level, but additional factors affect salaries, including military records, prior experience, education level, and work location. A bachelor's degree or previous experience in criminal investigation or law enforcement qualifies applicants for GS-5 pay, with some exceptions. A graduate degree in an applicable subject, superior undergraduate credentials, and/or specialized experience in criminal investigations takes an applicant to GS-7 or higher.
|Entry Level: GS-5, Step 1||$36,196|
|Mid-Career: GS-9, Step 10||$59,291|
|Full Performance Level: GS-13||$73,846 - $96,004|
What’s My Earning Potential as an ATF Agent?
The Office of Personnel Management determines ATF agent pay rates, and its online law enforcement officer salary calculator displays approximate salary based on location, grade, and step.
Other Pay and Fringe Benefits for ATF Agents
To augment their base salaries, ATF agents are eligible to receive other benefits, such as locality pay and LEAP, promotions, and a generous federal benefit package. These additional income sources and benefits are described in detail below.
ATF agents qualify for 15%-40% of their base salaries in locality pay. The amount received is based on local wage estimates in 53 pay areas.
In 2019, agents working in cities like Boston, Chicago, Hartford, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. earned more than 28% in locality pay. Houston, Los Angeles, and New York agents received more than 30%. Agents in the San Francisco Bay Area topped the list at 40%. Those in the rest of the U.S. were paid 15%.
Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP)
ATF agents often work more than a 40-hour week and are expected to be available outside their regular hours. Because agents' average work weeks typically total at or above 50 hours, they are eligible for LEAP and can earn an additional 25% of their base salary in overtime.
Federal employees classified as special agents and criminal investigators qualify for LEAP. They must certify they worked an average of two hours beyond the regular workday during the past year and expect to do so next year.
Foreign Language Award Program
Agents required to speak one or more foreign languages as part of their jobs are eligible to receive foreign language award program funds. The award amount varies according to agent proficiency and how often they use the languages.
Promotions are based on performance and approved by an agent's supervisor. The highest performance level ATF agents can reach is GS-13, which translates to $73,846-$96,00h per year, excluding locality pay and LEAP. Senior agents can expect their salaries to exceed $100,000.
- Annual leave or vacation pay, up to 240 hours per year
- Unlimited paid sick days
- Ten paid holidays per year: New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday, President's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
- Health insurance, with several plan options offered
- Life insurance
- Federal Employee Retirement System benefits, allowing agents with 20 years of service to retire at age 50 and requiring mandatory retirement at age 57 after 20 years
- Tax-deferred savings plan, similar to a 401(k) with employer matching funds
- Physical fitness and health improvement program
How Do ATF Agent Careers Compare to Other Criminal Justice Careers?
|Position||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate|
|Correctional Officers and Bailiffs||$44,440||-7%|
|Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers||$28,530||6%|
|Police and Detectives||$63,380||7%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Take the Next Step Today
Considering a career as an ATF agent or in law enforcement? The two links below are good places to start. They can help you decide which educational and career paths are right for you.