Federal Criminal Investigator: Job Description, Duties and Salary

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a federal criminal investigator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and salary expectations to find out if this is the career for you.

Federal criminal investigators gather evidence, investigate crimes, interview witnesses and apprehend suspects. They work on cases that fall under federal jurisdiction, such drug trafficking, organized crime, or human smuggling.

Essential Information

Federal criminal investigators are employed by a variety of agencies. The nature of their work depends on the agency they work for, and their salary is dependent upon their experience and education. Most federal agencies require a bachelor's degree, work experience or a combination of the two. Federal agents undergo intensive training at one of several federal facilities.

Required Education Bachelor's degree often required
Other Requirements Complete training program at Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; meet age and physical fitness requirements
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% (all police and detectives)
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $101,700 (for police and detectives employed by the federal government)

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Job Description

A federal criminal investigator, sometimes called a special agent, investigates potential crimes against the public and the U.S. government. More than 50 federal agencies hire investigators, including the Department of Energy, U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS, Amtrak and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Investigators work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Most agencies require that prospective federal criminal investigators be younger than 37, have a degree in a field related to the agency's focus and pass a background check. Some agencies, such as the National Park Service, require candidates to have experience within that agency.

Qualified candidates are specially trained at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. There are several facilities, located in Georgia, New Mexico, South Carolina and Maryland. The basic training program for entry-level investigators lasts approximately two months and includes instruction in criminal case development, interviews, writing case reports, serving warrants, case management, handling evidence and surveillance. Physical fitness, firearm and vehicle operation training are also included.

Job Duties

In general, federal criminal investigators investigate potential cases, gather evidence related to criminal activity, interview witnesses, arrest people accused of crimes and testify in court, if necessary. The specific tasks investigators perform depend on the agency they work for; for example, individuals working for the Secret Service investigate financial crimes, while those employed by the Internal Revenue Service investigate tax fraud. Investigators working for the FBI investigate drug trafficking, human rights violations and organized crime.

Typical Salaries

Investigators receive a base amount of pay established by the federal government. The amount depends on the agency they work for, level of experience and location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2015, the federal government employed about 41,580 criminal investigators and detectives. Their average annual salary was approximately $101,700.

Federal criminal investigators are employed by a number of different agencies, and are required to have a degree and pass a background check. They attend training at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center before entering the field. Their average salary was almost $102,000 in 2015.


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