Homeland Security Officer: Career Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a Homeland Security officer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and training to find out if this is the career for you.

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A Homeland Security officer is a federal employee, and could work as a Customs and Border Patrol Officer, Secret Service agent, or Homeland Security Investigations agent. They do not all require a bachelor's degree, although one will increase pay, and in some cases, likelihood of employment. Homeland Security officers must be U.S. citizens, pass a drug test and a background check.

Essential Information

Homeland Security officers may work as Customs and Border Patrol officers, Secret Service agents or Homeland Security Investigations special agents. Candidates must be U.S. citizens and will be required to undergo background checks prior to employment. Employers may prefer to hire officers with a bachelor's degree.

Required Education A bachelor's degree is typically required for positions with Homeland Security
Other Requirements U.S. citizenship, firearms proficiency and physical fitness
Projected Job Growth (2012-2024) 4% (police and detectives)*
Median Salary (2015) $58,320 (police and sheriff's patrol officers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options and Requirements

Officers of the Department of Homeland Security, like all federal employees, are required to be U.S. citizens. These careers may require drug testing, background checks and polygraph tests before applicants will be offered positions. Individuals interested in homeland security positions must have firearms proficiency and pass physical fitness tests.

Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Officer

Customs and Border Patrol Officers are law enforcement officers authorized under the Homeland Security Act to enforce the boundaries of the United States. As such, they are usually required to speak Spanish, because of the requirements of monitoring the southern U.S. border.

Salary for these officers should be fairly consistent with that of all police and sheriff's patrol officers, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports to be $58,320 in median annual income, as of May 2015.

Secret Service Agent (SSA)

Secret Service agents are active in two different areas; they are responsible for the protection of the President of the United States as well as others associated with this office, including family members, previous presidents and foreign heads of state. Additionally, they are responsible for the investigation of monetary fraud, as they are the enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

According to the United States Secret Service website, the starting salary for a Secret Service agent is between $43,964 and $74,891, as of 2010. Pay will vary based on location and assignment.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent

HSI special agents are responsible for the investigation of a broad number of laws applicable to defending the United States. They might be involved in breaches of law regarding customs, immigration, weapons and money laundering.

Education Requirements

To apply for a position as a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Officer, no bachelor's degree is necessary. However, bachelor's degrees, especially in combination with relevant experience, will increase the grade and compensation of federal employees.

For Secret Service agents, a bachelor's degree or further education is strongly preferred. Additionally, applicants must take and pass the Treasury Enforcement Agent examination and a writing test.

While a bachelor's degree is not strictly necessary to become a HSI special agent, it is recommended for applicants. The Department of Homeland Security notes that some of the qualifications that it looks for in applicants are a bachelor's degree or higher level of education, investigative experience and language skills.

Training Requirements

Border Patrol training lasts 19 weeks and is followed by a probationary year of on-the-job training. Trainees for the Secret Service are required to finish the 10-week Federal Law Enforcement Training Center's Basic Criminal Investigator Training program before completing a 17-week Special Agent Basic Training program. HSI special agents attend 22 weeks of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

A Homeland Security officer is an umbrella term referring to a number of positions working for the U.S. government, including a Secret Service agent, a Border Patrol Officer, or Homeland Security Investigations agent. All of these positions require training before beginning work, and a bachelor's degree may be beneficial for this field. Job growth for all police and detectives is predicted to be slower than average from 2014 through 2024.

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