A special agent is a government investigator who works for a government agency. Although agents of other governments may also be referred to as special agents, the term “special agent” is frequently used in reference to representatives of American government agencies, such as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents. A career as a special agent typically necessitates citizenship with the government for which the agent works, as well as the ability to pass a background check and physical examination.
Although many government employees are referred to as agents, the title of special agent is only given to those who perform investigative work. A regular Internal Revenue Service agent, for example, might work in the office auditing tax returns, whereas a special agent actively investigates possible legal violations. Special agents spend a lot of time in the field, following up on leads, meeting with informants, and investigating crime scenes, but they also work in the office doing research and writing reports.
Special agents work on a national level to enforce a country’s laws, leaving local law enforcement to police departments and investigative agencies. They also work on national security issues, such as monitoring current events, conducting threat investigations, and securing national borders. Criminal investigations, drug enforcement, financial crime investigations, anti-terrorism units, and a variety of other tasks can all be done special agents.
To work as a special agent, a person may need to first qualify as a regular agent, then work his or her way up the ranks before applying for a position as a special agent. Other agencies hire special agents directly, with a preference for people with a military or law enforcement background, as well as people with a high level of education. The IRS, for example, prefers accountants, whereas the Secret Service may prefer ex-police and ex-military personnel.
A special agent’s pay is determined his or her pay grade and level of experience. If special agents have additional skills, such as the ability to communicate in a foreign language, they are typically paid more, and they may be encouraged to pursue continuing education to expand their skill set. Government agencies also provide benefits such as relocation assistance, health benefits, payments into pension plans, paid time off, and access to banks and insurance companies that cater to government employees, in addition to continuing education support.