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How Much Does a DEA Agent Get Paid?
Do you have visions of being an action star, jumping fences and chasing bad guys? Well, that's not exactly what being a Drug Enforcement Agency agent is like, but these men and women are on the front lines of the American drug crisis. DEA agents work to keep illegal drugs off our streets. It's a stressful, physical and demanding job, but one that can be hugely satisfying for the right candidates – not to mention, lucrative.
There are a lot of different roles within the DEA, but special agents are the ones who do the boots-on-the-ground investigating and make busts. Essentially, these agents work to stop the distribution of illegal drugs within the United States. They do a lot of work at the U.S. borders and airports to keep illegal drugs from coming into the country, and they try to prevent the spread of drugs within the country. Job duties include everything from undercover operations and surveillance to writing reports and analyzing data.
Because DEA agent is a high-stakes government job, becoming a DEA agent is a long process that is only open to candidates who meet a number of criteria. You must be a U.S. citizen in excellent physical shape who is between 21 and 36, has a driver's license, and is willing to relocate anywhere in the United States. Candidates must have good hearing, vision and dexterity as well as functioning limbs and adequate mental stability to be up for this high-pressure job. You must disclose any past drug use and be willing to be randomly drug tested throughout your career.
To become a DEA agent, you must have either a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.95 GPA or significant experience working on legal investigations. If you have a bachelor's degree but a low GPA, you may be eligible if you have at least three years of work experience in one of a number of qualifying fields.
Your education and work experience determine your salary. Starting agents are typically hired at GS-7 or GS-9 pay grades, but the DEA pay scale is complicated. Both a locality payment, which is determined by where you're stationed and a 25 percent Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) bonus are added to the GS-7 or GS-9 base salary. For example, an agent who is hired at GS-7 and is stationed in Hawaii earns a base salary of $48,123, which includes a locality payment, plus a 25 percent bonus for a total salary of $60,154 per year as of 2018. An agent hired at GS-9 and stationed in San Francisco earns a base pay of $63,120 for a total salary of $78,900.
Ultimately, you can expect to earn between $60,000 and $80,000 per year when starting out as a DEA agent as of 2018.
DEA agents are stationed at locations all across the country. Unsurprisingly, the DEA isn't super upfront about what the day-to-day life and work environment of a DEA agent is like. These aren't 9-to-5 jobs, typically. You can expect to travel a lot and be called in to work on nights, weekends and holidays. Relocation is also a part of the job.
Years of Experience and Salary
There's a lot of opportunity to rise up the ranks as a DEA agent, and those moves come with higher pay grades. It's possible to move up to GS-13 within your first several years on the job, which means earning a salary between $100,000 and $130,000 per year. You can earn even more if you rise to a supervisory position like Assistant Special Agent in Charge. The ASAC DEA salary is higher than that of a standard special agent.
Job Growth Trend
Because the DEA is a government program, its budget is subject to political maneuvering. So, while these jobs are secure for now, it's impossible to say what will happen to the DEA in the future.
Kathryn has been a lifestyle writer for more than a decade. Her work has appeared on USAToday.com and Indeed.com.