Becoming a Special Agent

The career of an ATF special agent is unique and one of the most challenging in federal law enforcement. Headquartered in Washington, DC, ATF has field offices throughout the United States and its territories. Highly trained special agents are responsible for investigating violations of federal laws relating to firearms, explosives, arson, and alcohol and tobacco diversion. These investigations involve surveillance, interviewing suspects and witnesses, making arrests, obtaining and executing search warrants, and searching for physical evidence. ATF Special Agent training

The profession of special agent is exciting and rewarding. Special agents must be tough both physically and mentally. They must also be able to handle rigorous training, personal risks, irregular hours, and extensive travel. Special agents are subject to reassignment to any ATF office in the United States, to include any U.S. territory or ATF overseas assignment.

Special Agents Responsibilities:

  • Investigating criminal violations of Federal laws within the enforcement jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Conducting investigations of violations relating to explosives, firearms, arson, and alcohol and tobacco diversion.
  • Preparing concise criminal investigative case reports.
  • Testifying for the Federal government in court or before grand juries.
  • Gathering and analyzing evidence through investigative leads, seizures, arrests, execution of search warrants, and a variety of other means.

Conditions of Employment

Special agent applicants must:

  • Be U.S. citizens.
  • Possess a current and valid automobile operator's license.
  • Complete the ATF special agent applicant questionnaire.
  • Take and pass the ATF special agent exam.
  • Take and pass the ATF special agent applicant assessment test.
  • Take and pass the ATF Pre-employment Physical Task Test.
  • Appear for and successfully complete a field panel interview. A writing sample will be required.
  • Be in compliance with ATF's drug policy for special agent applicants.
  • Take and pass a medical examination by an authorized Government physician and meet medical requirements. Medical requirements include:
    • Applicants must be able to perform physically strenuous duties safely.
  • Weight must be in proportion to height.
  • Take and pass a drug test.
  • Take and successfully complete a polygraph examination.
  • Successfully complete a background investigation for a top secret security clearance.
  • To be eligible for Federal employment, male applicants born after December 31, 1959, must certify at the time of appointment that they have registered with the Selective Service System, or are exempt from having to do so under Selective Service law.
  • This job requires that all applicants must be at least 21 years of age and 37 years old at the time of hiring in accordance with Public Law 100-238. In addition, this law mandates that all candidates must be hired before reaching their 37th birthday. Some exceptions include waivers given to eligible veterans or those who served in federal civilian law enforcement retirement-covered jobs.


Please locate our national recruiter by referring to the ATF Recruiters List (by Field Division) for your area.

Contact us about questions becoming an ATF special agent by calling the Special Agent / Industry Operations Investigator Staffing Branch on telephone number (202) 648-9100.

Last Reviewed June 18, 2020