Excerpts from comments on federal agent positions:
I majored in criminal justice (CJ), got a masters in management (agency sponsored on govt time, so keep your eyes and ears open since this type of opportunity is fleeting), and a PhD in CJ. I recommend that those just starting out major in psych and minor in CJ. I sat on special agent hiring panels for two agencies (NIS & Customs), and it is my impression that testing results (if used by the agency), college GPA, physical fitness, work experience, possibly a polygraph, graduate degrees, and especially the ability to communicate orally and in writing, are usually what determine who gets hired. And, I repeat, there are always more applicants than there are positions.
I attended Secret Service protective detail training and participated in a protection detail for the Commissioner of Customs for several months. Protection details require meticulous planning and execution for events that almost never happen, and they are boring (but you get into some interesting places). USSS protection details require frequent travel, making for poor family life. The investigative jurisdiction of the USSS is not all that intriguing (counterfeiting, computer crimes, financial crimes).
The FBI offers the opportunity to perform the widest variety of investigations, with the possibility of specializing in an area of interest, or working in an Embassy as a Legal Attaché. I was an acting Customs Attaché in Panama for about a month, and it is interesting if you like that sort of thing (zero authority, with successes derived from liaison with agencies of the country). The FBI has the largest number of agents (about 12,000) and I believe ICE is second (about 4,000).
For breadth and depth, and unlimited federal jurisdiction, the FBI cannot be beat (and may be the most difficult to get into, and should be the ultimate goal). The FBI has federal kidnapping and bank robbery jurisdiction, but other crimes against persons are only investigated at the request of the local agency.
I worked within the FBI structure for about 6 years, as the Customs coordinator for a Joint Drug Intelligence Group at the Houston FBI office, and had the opportunity to see them in action. They tended to be HQ oriented, with the case agent being more subservient to written regulations and HQ directions. Whereas, Customs was more oriented to case agent initiative (but ICE seemed to be going to the HQ directed route when I left). Yet, the FBI was the most backward in ability to share information, within and outside the agency. I have read recently that they have called their attempt to automate their report writing system a failure (something Customs had been doing well since the early 1980s). The FBI was also very concerned with compartmentalization, releasing information only on a need to know basis. The FBI has been well known as the prima donna of agencies, claiming credit for any success of any agency. As well as being famous for collecting information from every agency they contact, while being very reluctant to reciprocate. However, while assigned there, I had unlimited access, as did all those assigned there from other agencies.
ICE seems to be moving closer and closer to primarily immigration enforcement (something I never wanted to do). Immigration is a minefield of no-win situations (you wouldn’t believe the complexity/lunacy of immigration regulations enacted by Congress). But, it could be rewarding to free poor migrants held for ransom by people smugglers, round up fugitive aliens, and free women and children being exploited sexually. ICE still does money-laundering, child pornography, illegal export of weapons and technology, and participates in drug and terrorism investigations and task forces. There should always be importation fraud to investigate, unless Customs and Border Protection gets its own investigators, which I believe has already begun on a small scale (and would be a small loss in some ways since I can think of fewer investigations that are more boring, but could result in a smaller agency).
I got assigned to NIS (now NCIS) as a USMC officer special agent, then got hired. I left NIS in 1986, after 7 years, because of grade disparity (journeyman grade of GS-12 rather than GS-13, but I believe that has changed), and the frequency of transfers (to include over-seas transfers that I was not interested in). Also, NIS special agents were not considered federal agents legally (assault one and you could not be charged with assault on a federal officer, which may have changed). I liked NIS and got some good traveling in at government expense, and worked a wide range of cases (to include homicide). Unfortunately, many of those cases were not major felonies (here again, the FBI can assume responsibility for anything they want on any federal property). I did like the opportunity to conduct frequent interviews and interrogations, and look back on those efforts as some of the best wo
Answered By: drdr - 8/16/2009