Becoming a Police Officer: Federal Law Enforcement (page 2)
Despite the media attention to federal law enforcement agencies, they employ a surprisingly small number of people. The federal government employs slightly over 100,000 people who are authorized to make arrests and carry firearms. Obviously, these special agents and uniformed officers are spread across the nation. Of this number, about 1,500 people work in U.S. territories, most in Puerto Rico, and a small number are assigned to foreign countries. The number of federal law enforcement officers had been growing prior to September 11, 2001, but an even more rapid expansion took place after that.
There are many things to learn for job candidates seeking federal positions. Although the FBI may be the best-known federal law enforcement agency, it is not the largest. That distinction belongs to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which in 2004 employed slightly fewer than 28,000 officers. Even as the largest federal police agency, CBP employs about 10,000 officers less than the NYPD but about 16,000 more than the FBI.
Also unknown by many job candidates, there are almost 70 federal law enforcement agencies. Not all agencies hire at the same time or follow the same procedures for accepting applicants. Additionally, jobs are not equally spread around the country. Generally, if you are hired by a federal agency, your first assignment will not be in the same city or state from which you were recruited. Where will you go? Much depends on the agency you have joined but also on where the positions are located. About half of all federal officers in 2004 worked in only five locations. In order of the number of officers assigned, those work locations were Texas, California, the District of Columbia, New York (the entire state, but most are in the city), and Florida. If you live in either New Hampshire or Delaware and take a federal job hoping to eventually get back home, your chances will be limited. Each state had fewer than 125 officers assigned, and some federal agencies assigned no officers at all to either one.
You might also consider how narrowly you want to limit your job search. Most candidates for federal policing are interested in positions as special agents, but federal agencies also employ large numbers of uniformed police officers. Generally, the special agent position is classified as GS-1811, which consists of criminal investigation titles. A variety of other job classifications are used for other positions.
If you are interested only in a GS-1811 position, you may be eliminating from consideration a number of interesting jobs, some of which may be more readily available than special agent positions. A large number of the uniformed positions, many of which are in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, give hiring preference to residents of the area. Many of the uniformed positions involve less moving around to various locations. You may be able to spend most or all of your career without the frequent transfers that special agents are expected to make, particularly if they hope to move up to supervisory ranks.
Another important consideration is the possibility of transfer either to a GS-1811 position within the agency in which you are working or to another federal law enforcement agency. Many federal law enforcement positions are advertised internally before they are made known to outside applicants. This means that you may have a better opportunity for an agent position if you are already working for the federal government than you would as an outsider. In addition to this built-in advantage, in many instances the time you have already put in working for the federal government may add to your pension and other benefits and may count toward the number of years you must work before you are eligible to retire at a full pension.
Police job applicants are young and retirement seems very far away, but it is important to remember that 20 or 25 years in a job can begin to seem like a long time sooner than you think, and if you are intending, as are most police candidates, to make law enforcement you life's work, the years of seniority you accrued before moving to the agency you always dreamed of may seem like a blessing many years later.
The majority of those employed as special agents and related titles work for agencies administered by one of four cabinet-level departments—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of the Interior. Candidates should be aware, though, that just about all the federal departments have a law enforcement component under their organizational umbrella.
If you are interested in learning about agencies not discussed in this article, a visit to the website of each cabinet-level department will, after a few mouse clicks, take you to the law enforcement agencies under that department. Smaller agencies can be found in the same way; this is an easy way to explore some of the less well-known federal law enforcement agencies.
Remember that less well-known does not always mean smaller. There are agencies with large groups of law enforcers that may be unfamiliar to you but may present employment opportunities. Particularly if you have unique skills or interests, you might be very pleasantly surprised to learn that there is an agency that is an excellent match for you. Additionally, as in many facets of life, the best-known agencies tend to attract the highest number of applicants. While each applicant believes that he or she will withstand any and all competition, the agency that is a perfect fit for you may also be one that is most actively seeking job candidates.
Since its creation in November 2002, the DHS houses the largest number of federal law enforcement personnel. In addition to CBP, agents and officers in the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), U.S. Border Patrol, and the Secret Service, as well as the Federal Protective Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service work within DHS. The Border Patrol is one of the fastest-growing federal law enforcement agencies. If you are able to consider working in one of the southwestern states that share a border with Mexico, and you meet federal hiring requirements, you should learn more about the Border Patrol. Largely unknown to many, the Secret Service has a large uniformed division, many of whose officers work in the Washington, DC area.
DOJ agencies include the FBI, although the largest DOJ agency is actually the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which in 2004 employed more than 15,000 correction officers, a 6% increase over two years earlier. Although corrections positions are not discussed in this volume, this is a growing area of federal employment. Other DOJ agencies are better known, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
A relatively unknown enforcement arm of the Department of the Treasury is the Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation division (IRS CID), which was created in 1919 to investigate violations of the income tax laws. Despite its relative obscurity, the agency is large; in 2004 it contained almost 3,000 special agents, and had the largest percentage of female agents (30%) of all the traditional federal law enforcement agencies. Among its best-known cases was the conviction of Al Capone for income tax evasion in 1932. In addition to financial investigations involving domestic and foreign currency transactions to the federal government, agents also are involved in enforcing gambling tax laws, fictitious tax refund claims, and aspects of the pornography industry.
A discussion of the largest federal law enforcement agencies cannot begin to capture the diversity of assignments that exist. Many federal agencies are similar to special jurisdiction agencies by virtue of their focused mandates. Working for the Bureau of Land Management or the National Marine Fisheries Service, for instance, will be unlike working for the Secret Service or CBP. The laws enforced will be closer to those associated with parks, recreation, and national resource protection. Similarly, officers working in Veteran's Health Administration medical centers will have responsibilities much like those of officers working in private or public local or state hospitals.
Offices of Inspector General
The last major expansion of federal law enforcement prior to the creation of DHS occurred in the 1978, with the creation of Offices of Inspector General (generally abbreviated as either OIGs or IGs).
OIGs employed more than 3,000 special agents in 2006, but they are little known to job candidates. This is because the OIGs work in all federal bureaus and probably because many of the individual OIGs are not as large as the better-known federal law enforcement agencies.
Not solely law enforcement agencies since they also conduct non-criminal audits of their parent agencies and their contractors, each OIG has a criminal investigative function. Their roots are in the U.S. Army's Office of Inspector General, which was formed in 1778. It was not until the 1960s, though, that government leaders saw a need for such oversight of civilian agencies. After a number of scandals involving politicians, outside consultants, and a number of wealthy businesspeople resulted in prison sentences for many of the participants, the OIGs were created.
By 2006 there were almost 60 OIGs. The largest, that of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in 2003 employed more than 1,600 special agents. Most were assigned to investigating Medicare, Medicaid, and other healthcare program fraud. Similarly, special agents in the U.S. Department of Agriculture OIG are responsible for investigation of fraud in the nation's food stamp program and from farm subsidy programs.
OIG agents in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigate individual and large-scale fraud in the Section 8 housing program, which provides subsidies to landlords who house tenants receiving federal rent assistance. They have also become involved in major drug prosecutions of dealers who operate on the property of government-funded public housing developments.
Another group of agents who range from white-collar to violent crime investigations are those in the Department of Labor (DOL), who, in addition to investigating fraud within such DOL programs as workers' compensation, disability insurance, and pension and welfare programs, also become involved in labor racketeering cases that may involve attempts by organized crime to infiltrate or exercise influence over labor unions.
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