The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) hires special agents to work cases involving white-collar crimes, terrorism, corruption, fraud and exploitation. While there is no specific position in the FBI as an undercover agent, it is within the scope of a special agent’s duties to work undercover when the need arises.
The FBI states that all new special agents, including those who may go undercover in the future, enter the bureau at the GS-10 grade level, which pays a base salary $43,441 annually in 2011. In addition to the base pay, a special agent also receives a locality pay, which equals 12.5% to 28.7% of the base pay. Additionally, special agents receive an additional availability pay that equals 25% of the base salary and locality pay combined. Availability pay covers extra or odd hours an agent may have to work, like while working undercover. According to the FBI, a new special agent can earn $61,100 to $69,900, depending on her geographic location. Each year, special agents qualify for a promotion to next grade level, up to GS-15, which pays a minimum annual salary of $134,647 in 2011.
All of the FBI’s employees receive a full benefits package that includes paid sick leave and vacation days. In addition to health benefits, employees can enroll in the Federal Employees Retirement System program, receive group life insurance and have access to work-life programs. Special agents, however, receive exclusive access to three additional life insurance plans offered through the FBI. Two of these special life insurance plans do not charge a policy premium.
Aspiring special agents must be between the ages of 23 to 36, pass a background check and be a U.S. citizen. An individual must also have three years of work experience, a bachelor’s degree and a valid driver’s license. After passing initial interviews, an applicant must also pass fitness and medical tests. Those who want to work undercover should also possess a “Critical Skill,” which is work experience in a specialized area. Critical skills for those who want to work undercover include foreign language proficiency, law enforcement experience, intelligence experience or experience working in tactical operations.
Within the FBI, there are five “career paths,” or divisions, in which special agents work: intelligence, criminal investigations, counterterrorism, the cyber division and counterintelligence. The FBI uses undercover agents in all five divisions. Those who often work undercover, according to the FBI, are those who work as “special agent linguists,” agents who are fluent in more than one language.