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How to Become a Criminal Investigator in the Federal Government

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Criminal investigators in the federal service perform a variety of critical functions in the interest of national security and public safety. Federal criminal investigators work in a number of agencies, such as the FBI, the IRS, the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Homeland Security. Criminal investigators use specialized software applications and tactical strategies to curtail financial crimes, cyber crimes, human trafficking, terrorism and tax fraud. Federal criminal investigators must be in good physical and mental health, have the appropriate education and experience credentials, and successfully complete agency training.

Qualifications for the Job

Criminal investigators must be U.S. citizens at least 21 years of age and have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in law enforcement, criminal justice, finance, forensic science or other related concentrations. You must have a valid state driver's license with a clean driving record. You must also be able to pass agency-mandated medical exams, drug tests and a background investigation. Ability to gain and maintain a top secret clearance is a requirement for most federal criminal investigative positions.

Application Process

Aspiring federal criminal investigators must complete an online application and security questionnaire package. Job announcements on agency websites direct you to apply for criminal investigator positions on the USAJobs website. You need to set up a personal profile including your federal resume and supporting documents, such as your veteran's documents, passport, college transcripts and professional licenses, which can be uploaded to your account. Once you complete the application and security questionnaire, the agency starts your background investigation. Once cleared, you are scheduled for testing and interviews. You are assigned a reporting date to begin criminal investigation training.

Certifications and Credentials

Most federal criminal investigators train at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, or FLETC, near Brunswick, Georgia, over a 22-week course. FBI special agents, however, train at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, for roughly 20 weeks. The training courses in both programs cover critical subjects such as investigative techniques, firearms qualification, physical fitness, defensive driving, narcotics and counter terrorism, and federal and state law enforcement regulations. Once completed, you receive your badge and credentials as a criminal investigator.

Career Outlook

Due to increasing national security and public safety concerns, the need for federal criminal investigators, along with law enforcement officers in general, is expected to remain relatively stable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for law enforcement officers, including federal criminal investigators, is anticipated to grow by 7 percent between 2010 and 2020, about half of the 14 percent average expected growth for all occupations combined. One factor attributing to this slow growth is the stiff competition for federal law enforcement investigative positions. The positions come with above average salaries and comprehensive benefits packages. According the BLS, the average salary for federal executive branch investigators was $100,290 in 2012. The IRS reports that their special agents may earn between $41,167 and $64,894. The FBI reports that new FBI special agents earn between $61,000 and $ 69,000.


Chiara Sakuwa has been a writer since 2005. Her work has appeared in publications such as the "Liberty Champion" newspaper and "The New World Encyclopedia" project. She is also the author of the novel "The Lady Leathernecks." She holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences from Campbell University and a Master of Criminal Justice from Boston University.

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