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FBI special agents are paid according to the federal employee pay scale, which is known as the General Schedule or GS. They enter the FBI Academy as special agent cadets at a GS-10 level, and they are eligible to be promoted as high as the GS-13 level as field agents. When agents transition into supervisory roles, they attain levels such as GS-14, GS-15 or Senior Executive Service status.
Federal Pay Structure
Federal employees are commonly identified by pay grade. Grades run from GS-1 to GS-15. You must have at least one year of service in a grade to be eligible to go up a grade. Within each pay grade, however, there are 10 "steps," based on how long you've been in the grade, with each step paying a higher salary. If you stay within a single pay grade, it takes 18 years to advance from Step 1 to Step 10. The pay ranges for grades overlap: The highest salary at GS-10, for example, exceeds the lowest salary at GS-11. However, the system has rules ensuring that no promotion results in a lower salary.
On top of the base salaries identified in the General Schedule, an FBI special agent's pay is adjusted in two additional ways: by location and by availability. Agents in major metro areas, as well as in Alaska and Hawaii, receive higher pay to account for the higher cost of living in those area. In the San Francisco area, for example, all pay levels were 38.17 percent higher in 2017. In the Kansas City area, by contrast, the locality adjustment was 15.59 percent. Meanwhile, because FBI agents are generally expected to work more than 40 hours per week – the FBI estimates 50 – they also receive a 25 percent availability pay bonus to compensate them for the extra time.
As new FBI agents enter the academy and graduate to special agent status, they carry a GS-10 designation the entire time. As of 2017, a GS-10 law enforcement officer earned a base salary (not including locality and availability adjustment) of $49,218 at Step 1. Each additional step added $1,588 in annual pay. Agents at GS-10, Step 10 earned $63,510.
Special Agent Promotions
Special agents are eligible to be promoted to higher grades from GS-11 to GS-13. A federal worker at GS-11 in 2017 had a base salary of $52,329 to $68,025, depending on step, with each step worth $1,744. For GS-12, the range was $62,722 to $81,541, with a per-step increase of $2,091. For GS-13, it was $74,584 to $96,958 with each step worth $2,486.
FBI special agents can advance beyond GS-13 by moving into supervisory positions. Base salaries for GS-14 workers ranged from $88,136 to $114,578, with each step worth $2,938. A GS-15 employee's base salary in 2017 was $103,672 to $134,776, and each step was worth $3,456. Employees promoted into the senior executive service earned a base salary of at least $124,406.
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.