Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) agents work under the direction of the Treasury Department and are responsible for enforcing laws that involve the illegal possession and sale of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. ATF agents are typically responsible for obtaining search warrants, searching for evidence, raiding buildings, interviewing criminal suspects and witnesses, conducting surveillance, and making arrests.
ATF agents work closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to perform their duties and enforce the law. ATF agents also gather and analyze crime data and prepare detailed reports of their finding which are then used by U.S. attorneys in prosecuting criminals.
A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) special agent is considered by many in law enforcement to be one of the most challenging and demanding careers in Federal law enforcement. ATF headquarters are located in Washington, D.C. and have field offices located throughout the United States. Trained and highly skilled ATF agents are primarily responsible for investigating violations of Federal law relating to firearms, explosives, arson, alcohol, and tobacco. Forensic chemists and other specialty ATF technicians and professionals provide expert assistance in preparing cases.
Although this career can be challenging, working as an ATF special agent can be exciting and rewarding. All ATF agents are required to be physically and mentally fit. ATF agents must also be able to handle long hours, irregular working schedules, rigorous training, personal risks, and a lifestyle that allows for extensive travel. An ATF agent can be reassigned to an ATF office that could be located anywhere in the United States, any U.S. Territory, or an overseas location if a foreign position is open.
- Conducting criminal investigations relating explosive, firearms, arson, and alcohol and tobacco violations
- Investigating other criminal violations of Federal laws that fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice
- Testifying before grand juries and in criminal courts
- Preparing comprehensive and compelling criminal investigative reports
- Gather, review and analyze evidence through property seizures, arrests, investigative leads, execution of court-ordered search warrants, and a variety of other means at their disposal.
ATF Agent Requirements
- Be a U.S. Citizen
- Be between 21 and 37 years old, at the time of appointment, unless you have had previous service in a federal civilian law enforcement position covered by special civil service retirement provisions, including early or mandatory retirement. Maximum age limitations may not be waived for any applicant, including those entitled to veterans’ preference
- 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
- Complete and return the ATF special agent applicant questionnaire
- Have a valid, current automobile operator’s license
- Pass the Treasury Enforcement Agent (TEA) Examination
- Pass the ATF special agent applicant assessment test
- Complete and pass a field panel interview – a writing sample is required prior to the interview.
- Comply with ATF’s drug policy for special agent applicants
- Pass an authorized medical examination administered by a government physician.
ATF Agent Medical/Health/Physical Requirements
- Uncorrected distant vision of at least 20/100 in each eye, and corrected distant vision must test 20/20 in one eye and 20/30 in the other. Average or above normal depth perception and peripheral vision and the ability to distinguish shades of color by plate tests
- Applicants that have undergone Laser in Situ Keratomileusis (LASIK); Automated Larnellar Keratoplasty (ALK); Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK); or Radial Keratotomy (RK) must provide proof that they have passed all specified protocols
- Hearing loss, as measured by an audiometer, must not exceed 30 decibels at 500, 1000, and 2000 Hz levels
- Applicants must show that they can perform physically strenuous duties safely and effectively
- Pass a drug test
- Pass a polygraph examination
- Weight must be in proportion to their height
- Pass a background investigation for a top secret security clearance
Foreign Language Award Program
The Foreign Language Award Program provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives provides ATF agents financial compensation for if they’re able to make substantial use of one or more foreign language(s) in the performance of their job duties. Related compensation is based upon proficiency as well as usage of the foreign language in performing their duties.
ATF Agent Promotion Potential
Promotions as an ATF agent is based on superior job performance and a must receive supervisory approval.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Occupations
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives offers great career opportunities for professionals from diverse backgrounds. Because of the scope and breadth of the organization’s mission and responsibilities, the Bureau employs professionals from a wide range of fields including intelligence analysis, laboratory sciences, information technology, general management, administration, human resources, etc. No matter their specialty, all ATF employees — agents, technicians, investigators, and professionals alike — are dedicated to fulfilling ATF’s primary mission and goals.
As previously discussed, the primary purpose of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is to prevent violent crime by enforcing the Gun Control Act, Federal firearms and explosives laws and alcohol and tobacco trafficking laws. In comparison to other federal agencies, the ATF is a relatively small agency with broad, interrelated missions which involve law enforcement, homeland security concerns, regulatory compliance, and alcohol and tobacco diversion. To carry out its responsibilities the ATF employs attorneys, interns, and recent law school graduates to fulfill a diverse array of legal tasks.
ATF’s Office of Chief Counsel is comprised of approximately 80 attorneys who provide legal services and advice to assist the agency’s operations and special programs throughout the nation. A large number of attorneys employed by the ATF work in Washington D.C. (ATF headquarters). There they provide legal services, legal advice and strategic guidance to the Bureau’s leadership. These attorneys are divided into four groups, including Administration and Ethics; Litigation; Disclosure, Forfeiture and Criminal Law; and Firearms, Explosives, and Arson. ATF attorneys are also positioned throughout the U.S. in local field offices, where they work directly with ATF field agents and ATF investigators to prepare criminal cases.
Even though individual responsibilities of ATF attorneys vary from division to division and location to location, they all work hand in hand with one another as well as all other ATF professionals to support the primary mission and promote the core values of the ATF as a regulatory and law enforcement agency. Attorneys working for the ATF are frequently provided the opportunity to increase their knowledge and expertise by working in various of legal departments or divisions.
Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP)
The ATF provides an internship program for prospective ATF employees via the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP). The ATF’s summer internship program is very competitive and the majority of the students who apply to the program are second-year law students. After graduation, law students are eligible for a summer internship with the DOJ before entering a full-time judicial clerkship or graduate law program. For more information on the ATF/DOJ summer internship program, students should visit http://www.usdoj.gov/oarm/arm/sp/sp.htm. Application deadlines for the summer internship programs are usually in September.
Volunteer Legal Intern Program
In addition to their Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP), the ATF also offers unpaid in-semester and summer internship opportunities at its headquarters in Washington D.C. as well as various other locations throughout the U.S. Many of these internships will provide academic credit for law students. Law students interested in applying for a volunteer summer internship position should submit a resume and cover letter via email to [email protected]
Below are the application deadlines for these additional internship programs:
- Spring semester: October 1
- Summer: December 1
- Fall semester: June 1
Note: When applying for an internship opportunity you’ll need to indicate in the subject line of your email which internship programs you’re applying for (i.e. spring, summer, or fall).
Permanent Job Opportunities for Graduating Law Students
ATF piggybacks on the DOJ’s Attorney General’s Honors Program. The Attorney General’s Honors Program is the only program used by the ATF or DOJ for hiring graduating law students to fill entry-level legal positions. The deadline for this hiring program is typically in September of the fall semester of the student’s final year of law school or their judicial clerkship. For more information on this program visit here.
Employment at the ATF is not limited to criminal justice and legal professionals. They ATF also hires technical professionals including forensic chemists. ATF forensic chemists are responsible for performing forensic analysis, investigations, and interpretation of the physical, composition and chemical properties, molecular structure and chemical reactions of a diverse array of substances; the prediction of transformation they may undergo; as well as the amount of energy and matter included in these transformations. Forensic chemists are almost always required to have a 4-year bachelor’s degree (and/or masters degree) as well as relevant work experience and expertise in forensic chemistry.
A forensic chemist with the ATF:
- Is an expert in the evaluation and analysis of evidence gathered from crime scenes, criminal investigations of arsons and/or bombings in one or more specialized areas such as the identification of trace evidence, fire debris, or explosive residue (i.e. hair, glass, fibers, soil, etc.).
- Is responsible for processing crime scenes and provides training to investigative officers on how to correctly collect and preserve forensic evidence at a crime scene. Forensic chemists also perform advanced forensic analyses and tests in order to solve complex cases.
- Will perform examinations that will require both wet chemistry and instrumental procedures such as gas capillary electrophoresis, chromatography, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, ion chromatography, liquid chromatography, x-ray diffraction, x-ray fluorescence, infra-red spectrometry, as well as other procedures. ATF chemists are responsible for the evaluation and interpretation of the results of analyses in order to determine their scientific significance and/or validity and to make sure that relevant questions are answered. Chemists must prepare detailed reports to support their findings and conclusions.
- Must identify and assess the need for the development of new methodologies or unique new scientific approaches to address growing trends and/or problems. Forensic chemists also organize, plan and conduct detailed studies to meet these needs. They are also responsible for evaluating new technologies and equipment for the ATF.
- Are responsible for advising outside Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
- Serve as expert witnesses. They testify in court for criminal cases and advise prosecuting attorneys on the evidentiary value of the results of a forensic examination.
Forensic Investigative Auditor
In effort to stop violent crime, protect the public and enforce U.S. Department of Justice asset seizure and forfeiture authority, the central mission of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Financial Investigative Services Division (FISD) is to manage a skilled team of forensic investigative auditors with the ability to apply the most current technologies and scientific auditing methods to the financial investigations process.
Forensic investigative auditors:
- Are experienced forensic auditing and accounting experts with specialized skills in criminal investigations and regulatory financial inspections.
- Provide the ATF expert guidance by helping to identify, select and apply the latest forensic accounting and financial investigative techniques and methodologies.
- Prepare comprehensive, yet concise reports and disseminate results, conclusions, and disclosures developed during criminal financial investigations to support the prosecution during Federal and State jury trials.
- Support the prosecuting and the investigative team by conducting briefings and conferences and provide expert guidance, direction, and testimony.
- Are responsible for effectuating forensic financial investigations of individuals and organizations who are believed to be responsible for committing financial fraud.
- Consult and train ATF Special Agents as well as other ATF division regarding the financial motivations, financial condition and/or other financial aspects of a criminal case.
- Conduct forensic interviews with insurance company representatives, accountants, representatives of financial institutions, and other relevant parties including Federal, State, and local agency officials in order to obtain necessary information.
- Research and analyze financial databases and records by employing the latest forensic accounting procedures in an effort to location assets that have been illegally obtained.
- Manage teams that are responsible for forensic audits, criminal financial investigations and other related operations.
- Are required from time to time to serve as expert witness for both criminal and civil cases.
The Intelligence Research Specialist (IRS) position with the ATF is responsible identifying, gathering, and assembling information on complex, conspiratorial-type (i.e., involve multiple defendants) criminal investigations of traditional and non-traditional organized crime groups, firearms and narcotics trafficking organizations, arson rings, and related criminal conspiracies, fronts, and organizations. Intelligence Research Specialists (IRS) apply the techniques and principles of deductive and inductive reasoning to produce detailed intelligence reports. The IRS interprets and extrapolates existing data to fill gaps in already acquired information, and is responsible for reviewing and evaluating finished intelligence reports.
Intelligence Research Specialists:
- Usually work in a Field Division Office or more likely an Intelligence Field Office, and are responsible for representing their organization (and the ATF) in carrying out liaison and coordination functions in other intelligence agencies.
- Are responsible for performing intelligence research assignments.
- Carrying out complex intelligence analyses in order to support the investigative operations of their office or other ATF organization by employing a variety of intelligence-gathering methodologies.
- Prepare intelligence analyses for analytical reports and present briefings on criminal activities to the criminal investigative team.
- Develop and maintain databases used to generate statistical and relational reports.
- Provide advice and information on mission-critical intelligence developments and trends in criminal investigative procedures.
- Create useful intelligence reports by extracting, compiling, and analyzing factual information in response to requests from ATF agencies and other federal government organizations.
- Serve as a reliable source of intelligence data for ATF Agents and provide advisory services for ATF prosecuting attorneys.