Secret Service Agent: Career Guide

Written By CriminalJusticeDegreeSchools.com Staff


The oldest federal law enforcement agency in the United States, the Secret Service protects important government figures and systems. Protected individuals usually include former, current, and elect presidents, vice presidents, and their families. The Secret Service also safeguards top presidential candidates and visiting dignitaries from other nations.

Moreover, the Secret Service prevents and investigates financial crimes against the government. Established in 1865 to address currency counterfeiting during the Civil War, the Secret Service addresses counterfeiting, money laundering, and financial fraud. Additional crimes prevented and investigated by the Secret Service include security attacks, such as hacking attempts, perpetrated against government information, communication, and banking systems.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide an occupational outlook page with salary data for secret service agent careers, but the general page for police and detectives indicates a median annual salary of $63,380 as of 2018. The BLS projects a 5% average job growth for police and detectives from 2018-2028.

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Secret Service Agent

Secret Service agents may perform a variety of investigation and protection duties and tasks. Agents usually begin their careers in field offices, which may be anywhere in the U.S., before transferring to their first 3-5-year protective assignments. Upon completing their first assignments, special agents often pursue additional field assignments or begin working in training or headquarters offices in Washington, D.C.

Protection assignments include providing personal security to top former, current, and prospective political and government figures and their families. Secret Service agents also protect government buildings and Department of Homeland Security-designated National Special Security Events. These professionals design and carry out safety plans and protocols, which may include bodyguarding important persons.

Fraud investigation assignments cover credit card and fee fraud, bank fraud and access device fraud, and money laundering. The Secret Service also investigates computer and telecommunications fraud, identity fraud, forgery, and asset forfeiture. Secret Service agents may investigate counterfeiting crimes involving Department of Agriculture food coupons, U.S. Treasury checks and postage stamps, and U.S. or foreign currencies. Specialized professionals sometimes design and implement new systems security strategies, tools, and protocols.

Secret Service agent jobs may provide frequent, exciting travel opportunities. Agents can work at various duty stations across the U.S., and some receive liaison assignments in other countries. Working in international field offices typically requires foreign language training.

Steps to Become a Secret Service Agent

Secret Service candidates must hold current driver's licenses and U.S. citizenship. They should also demonstrate excellent health and fitness and 20/100 or better binocular vision, correctable by surgery to 20/20 in each eye. Upon receiving conditional employment offers, aspiring Secret Service agents must be 21-37 years old (or 21-40, if veterans). Eligible candidates have no criminal records or markings (such as tattoos) visible from the neck up or on hands below the wrist bone.

Secret Service agents must complete the education and experience required for GL-07 or GL-09 status. Minimum GL-07 qualifications include superior academic performance, a bachelor's degree, one year or more of graduate education, and/or one year or more of GL-05-level equivalent experience. The Secret Service prefers candidates with pre-law or criminal justice-related educational backgrounds.

Candidates who meet the above prerequisites must go through the following steps:

  • Apply for a Secret Service position through the USAJOBS website

  • Pass a written exam, such as the special agent entrance exam

  • Pass physical abilities test

  • Pass an initial interview

  • Receive a conditional job offer

  • Pass a security interview and credit check

  • Pass polygraph, medical, and psychological examinations

  • Pass a background investigation

  • Undergo a final interview

  • Accept a job and begin training

Secret Service Agent Job Training

Secret Service professionals receive considerable on-the-job training, both when hired and throughout their careers. Newly hired Secret Service agents undergo 10-week and 18-week trainings, and they must pass both programs on the first try.

Provided at Glynco, Georgia's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the 10-week criminal investigator training program teaches students foundational criminal law and investigation techniques.

The more specialized, 18-week training takes place at the Secret Service Training Academy in Washington, D.C. This specialized training familiarizes new agents with Secret Service policies and procedures, covering diverse investigation and protection areas and activities. Agents learn to prevent and investigate intelligence and financial crimes, such as cyberattacks, access device fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering.

Agents also undergo training in control tactics, physical fitness, marksmanship, and water survival. Additionally, the 18-week training includes emergency medicine, protective advances, and techniques training.

New Secret Service officers receive 14 weeks of specialized training in Washington, D.C. This training features an interdisciplinary curriculum, which provides thorough legal and physical police training in police procedures, laws of arrest, search and seizure, and police-community relations. Officers-in-training also learn about criminal law, diplomatic immunity, and international treaties and protocol.

Agents and officers must stay up-to-date on firearms and emergency medicine qualifications throughout their careers. These professionals also undergo continued training using crisis simulations. Some Secret Service professionals seek additional training to qualify for criminal investigations roles. The Secret Service also offers general courses on interpersonal awareness, leadership, ethics, and diversity.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Prior military or law enforcement experience translates well to Secret Service work. Former military or law enforcement professionals often demonstrate background knowledge of government systems, plus prior physical fitness, rescue, and weapons training. These areas of expertise prove useful when completing Secret Service agent requirements, training, and duties. Agents also benefit from a passion for protecting others.

Foreign language fluency often improves hiring prospects for Secret Service agents. Foreign language skills can translate to hiring bonuses and special positions or assignments. The government may ask agents to move to new locations and/or to leave home for weeks or months at a time. Therefore, agents also benefit from travel knowledge, enjoyment, and skills.

Secret Service agents must communicate clearly and effectively, so strong oral and written communication skills can enhance job performance. Quick memorization helps prospective and current agents absorb the information necessary for diverse protection and investigation tasks.

Salary and Career Outlook

Police and detectives in the United States earned a median annual salary of $63,380 as of 2018, according to the BLS. Secret Service agents' salaries largely depend on their performance. New agents usually qualify for either the GL-07 or GL-09 federal pay grades, with annual starting salaries of $36,356 and $44,471, respectively, according to 2019 pay grade data. Foreign language proficiency can qualify new agents for a one-time bonus.

Factors influencing income include credentials and federal employment experience. Secret Service agents may move up the salary scale, which goes as high as GL-15, by accruing work experience, earning new certifications, or working on high-level investigations. GL-14 and GL-15 positions prove extremely competitive, so many secret agents top out at the GL-13 performance level, which pays $76,687-$99,691, depending on qualifications.

As government employees, Secret Service agents enjoy generous benefits packages, including paid holidays, sick leave, affordable health and life insurance, and retirement benefits. Qualifying criminal investigator-level agents also receive an additional 25% of their annual base pay through Law Enforcement Availability Pay.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do secret service agents make good money?

Typical starting salaries for Secret Service agents at the GL-07 and GL-09 levels range from $36,356-$47,264, depending on credentials, prior experience, and federal performance level pay grade. By accumulating work experience and credentials, secret agents can move up the salary scale. Professionals at the GL-13 level, where many secret agents top out, start at $76,687 annually, according to 2019 data.

How long is secret service training?

Secret Service training usually takes several months. Agents complete the 10-week criminal investigator training program, followed by an 18-week special agent training course. Agents also undergo continuing education and training throughout their careers.

Where do secret service agents work?
Secret Service agents may work anywhere in the country and transfer periodically, so agents benefit from flexible, mobile lifestyles and arrangements. Many agents work at Secret Service centers in the Washington, D.C. area. Agents boasting foreign language skills and adequate training may receive assignments in foreign countries.
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