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Become a Quarantine Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a quarantine officer. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in biosecurity.

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Should I Become a Quarantine Officer?

Quarantine officers work for the government in an area known as biosecurity. They are also referred to as animal and plant inspection officers, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS). This department's primary goal is to prevent pests, diseases, or other contaminates from entering the United States. Quarantine officers, who are required to be United States (U.S.) citizens, work at various border checkpoints, as well as in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during natural disasters and other all-hazards emergencies.

Quarantine officers must work in close proximity to plants and animals that are contaminated with disease or pests, potentially introducing them to health hazards. They operate out of climate-controlled laboratory environments or in the field, helping people more directly avoid food-, animal- or water-borne illness.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's, master's and/or doctoral degrees available
Degree Field Agriculture, chemistry, natural resource management.
Certification Pesticide certification and/or Basic Agriculture Safeguarding Training is required.
Key Skills Knowledge of biological and scientific principles; collection and identification techniques; treatment and control measures; interpersonal, oral and written communication skills, data collection software
Salary (2014) $35,330 per year (Median salary for all inspectors and testers).

Sources: Job postings (December 2012). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree, or a combination of equivalent college coursework and experience, is required for this position. Relevant majors include agriculture, biological sciences, and chemistry. A December 2012 search for quarantine officer positions indicated students need to have a minimum of 24 units of coursework in topics such as the following: agronomy, cell biology, entomology, forestry, horticulture, mycology, nematology, plant pathology, and soil science.

Success Tips:

  • Explore USDA student programs. Students should refer to special opportunities to receive on-the-job-training while completing their degrees. Since these are area and agency specific, students will want to check with the relevant office to see what is available.
  • Explore USDA scholarships. The USDA has a few scholarship programs intended for high school through graduate school students. These include the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) William F. Helms Scholarship Program as well as the Saul T. Wilson Scholarship Program in Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
  • Participate in a USDA internship. The USDA has several opportunities for internships. These include the APHIS Summer Intern Program as well as the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities National Internship Program.
  • Review and compile application materials. It's important to review the list of required documentation before applying for APHIS positions, as it takes time to compile this material. While not all materials will be relevant for every applicant, the list includes required documents to support foreign or domestic education level, armed forces or federal employment status, Career Transition Assistance Plans, Interagency Career Transition Assistance Plan, Peace Corps, or Vista volunteer eligibility and Veterans preference.

Step 2: Complete Specialized Certification Training

According to a December 2012 search for quarantine officer positions, applicants need to attend the Basic Agriculture Safeguarding Training (BAST). This certification training is intended to assist quarantine officers with relevant skill development required under a variety of regulations, including the Plant Protection Act of 2000.

Success Tip:

  • Complete training prior to employment. According to several job postings found in December 2012, quarantine officer applicants must complete their USDA-APHIS-PPQ training during the year preceding employment. If certification isn't obtained by this time, then corrective action may result.

Step 3: Obtain Relevant Experience

Qualifying experience varies by the Government Service (GS) grade level required for each job. A GS-7's experience requirements, for example, include professional-level knowledge of relevant agricultural quarantine policies, procedures, and regulations. This level requires knowledge-based experience in a variety of programs as well as the ability to create work proposals, write reports, and handle site treatments and remediation; these measures tend to include disinfection, fumigation, and sterilization. The GS-9 through GS-11 levels require professional-level inspection and problem-solving experience as well as the ability to issue Phytosanitary certificates.

Some educational requirements are substituted with specialized experience. While this experience doesn't have to be government-based, it does need to be equivalent, particularly in the area of handling complex issues, including supervisory duties. Some examples include knowledge of relevant procedures and regulations for agricultural quarantine principles or planning and conducting treatments for plant and animal pests and diseases, as well as techniques in identification and experience in biological control programs.

Step 4: Complete Graduate School

Some positions, such as those requiring a GS-07, GS-09 or GS-11 standing, require additional education and specialized experience. Job postings recommend coursework in agronomy, entomology, horticulture, soil science, and other relevant subject areas. Furthermore, GS-07 applicants need at least one year of graduate school or equivalent experience; applicants meeting the Superior Academic Achievement requirements are also considered. GS-09 positions require two years of graduate school, a master's degree or its equivalent, and GS-11 positions require three years of graduate school, a doctorate degree or its equivalent.

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