Becoming a Special Agent

The career of an ATF special agent is unique and one of the most challenging in federal law enforcement. ATF’s highly trained agents are responsible for investigating violations of federal laws relating to firearms, explosives, arson, and alcohol and tobacco diversion. They rely on a combination of tactical, analytical and intelligence gathering skills to identify leads that will support criminal cases.

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 or overseas. As of fiscal year 2020, there are 2,597 special agents currently working at ATF.

Special agents respond to an explosives incident Responsibilities

  • Investigation of criminal acts relating to arson, alcohol, explosives, firearms and tobacco
  • Witness interrogation as part of criminal investigations
  • Evidence collection, analysis and documentation
  • Search warrant execution
  • Participation in interagency task forces
  • Undercover operations
  • Crime scene management
  • Basic firearms competencies
  • Firearms and ammunition identification
  • Firearms and tactical training
  • Close-quarters defensive countermeasures

Special agents ramp up for a raid Eligibility Requirements

  • Between 21-37 years of age
  • U.S. citizenship
  • Able to obtain Top Secret clearance
  • Eligible to work for the U.S. federal government
  • Undergraduate degree, or experience, or a combination of education and experience
  • Valid driver’s license

Application Process

The entire process can take 12 months or longer from start to finish. Failure to pass any of the steps below may eliminate you from the hiring process.

Online Application

ATF job announcements are available on Applicants are encouraged to:

  • Login to and review the current special agent job announcements
  • Learn how to build your resume
  • Submit your application by the deadline
  • Receive notification of rankings

If qualified, you will receive a selection notice that you have passed the first phase, as well as a notification letter with more details on the written and physical tests.

Written and Physical Tests

You must pass both tests to continue in the process.

Interview and Background Check

  • Panel interview
  • Candidate letter notice
  • Background investigation
  • Polygraph test
  • Medical exam
  • Drug test

If you pass the panel interview, background investigation and all other tests, you will receive an “Enter on Duty” letter to report to training and new hire orientation.


As a condition of employment, special agent applicants are required to successfully complete a polygraph examination. Applicants who have significant responses or who manipulate the polygraph process will be removed from the hiring process. Researching polygraph is unnecessary and highly discouraged, as many websites recommend methods that, if employed, may be deemed as a manipulation of the polygraph process.

A special agent uses a breaching tool during a training scenarioTraining

Newly hired special agents report to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. Here, they must complete the 12-week Criminal Investigator Training Program, followed by the 15-week Special Agent Basic Training program.

Learn more about basic training

Contact Us

Email your questions or comments regarding the special agent career or application process to


Last Reviewed January 16, 2024