Dr. James Schaller, MD
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James Schaller, MD Thanks Schaller
and Other FBI Agents for Service

FBI Life and Career Options

Top 2015 Private Investigators Are Former FBI

A Career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation

A call was put in at 3 a.m. this morning. There was a homicide on Cherry Street in a small run down apartment. Ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles were swarming the building. Tenants were looking off balconies and standing in their doorways trying to see what was going on. Local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents were examining the crime scene trying to uncover any clues as to what exactly happened early that morning.

The FBI is a large field of hard working people solving crimes, protecting lives, and many other duties. The FBI field takes a lot of discipline and dedication. The requirements are numerous, conditions are tremendous, and the status is great.

There are a great number of requirements involved in being a special agent for the FBI (www.fbi.gov). To qualify as a FBI agent, one must be a United States citizen or a citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands. One must be at least twenty-three years of age but not to exceed thirty-six years of age. A valid driver's license and three years of full-time work experience are also required. Candidates must be able to relocate if needed and must be available for any assignment. Agents must not have uncorrected vision worse than 20/200 (Snellen) and corrected 20/20 in one eye and not worse than 20/40 in the other eye. Along with these vision standards, one must pass a color vision test. An agent must not be prejudice or discriminate in any way. An agent must not have any political or other dislike to anyone he or she investigates. A case must be handled maturely, meaning that an agent must understand all the facts before leaning towards one side of a case.

According to Jeffreys (1995), these background requirements also bring along mental and physical capabilities such as self-respect, isolation, dedication, mental toughness, endurance, and stamina. "You have to be a self starter. You have to have a lot of confidence, and you mustn't mind being alone or isolated" (Jeffreys, 147).

Communication is also a leading requirement in being a special agent. One must be able to communicate well in both written and verbal form. The FBI is also interested in a person's community involvement and how well the person works with others (Schaller, 1999).

Educational requirements for the FBI include a bachelor's degree of one of four main entry programs: law, accounting, language, and diversified. To qualify under the law program, a person must have a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree from a resident law school. To qualify under the accounting program, one must have a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree with a major in accounting of a related discipline, and be eligible to take the certified public accountant (CPA) examination. Candidates who have not passed the CPA exam will also be required to pass the FBI's accounting test. To qualify under the language program, one must have a BS or Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in any discipline and be proficient in a language that meets the need of the FBI. Candidates will be expected to pass a Language Proficiency Test. To qualify under the diversified program, one must have a BS or BA degree in any discipline, plus three years of full-time work experience, or an advanced degree accompanied by two years of full-time work experience (www.fbi.gov).

"The FBI is interested in people who have had some education in Spanish and individuals with degrees in computer science, accounting, math or science" (Schaller, 1999). Also, the FBI is interested in recruiting professionals from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds with areas in expertise that have not traditionally been sought (Northway, 2).

According to Northway (1997), the FBI has a rigorous application process. The first step is to complete a written exam, which can be obtained at any local FBI field office, followed by an interview. Those passing the interview continue through the process with a background check. A background check includes auditing criminal records, verifying educational achievement, a polygraph drug test, credit check, and thorough interviews with friends and acquaintances.

By meeting the entry-level criteria, one will be considered for further processing including applicant testing. A person may be competitive for testing purposes if they possess one of the special skills above. Competitive candidates will complete a battery of written tests and, in some cases, specialized testing in their field of expertise. In passing these tests, one may be eligible for an interview based upon overall qualifications, competitiveness among other candidates, and the needs of the FBI. All candidates will be given a polygraph examination to determine the veracity of information provided for employment. Disqualification of hire includes conviction of a felony or major misdemeanor, use of illegal drugs, or failure to pass a drug-screening test (Northway, 2).

The training process starts with a medical examination to determine physical suitability for the position. One is expected to be physically fit to participate in the demanding physical training conducted at the FBI academy (Schaller, 1999). The FBI Academy, which is held in Quantico, Virginia, lasts 15 weeks. Upon graduation, one will be able to execute the duties of a law enforcement officer. "All candidates must meet the standardized weight to height ratio and body fat requirement" (www.fbi.gov).

At first, new agents feel extreme pressure from his supervisors. "The supervisors job is to impress the heck out of the newcomer." At first, most agents are timid but they learn to become more aggressive (Ungar, 639).

After successful completion of the 15-week program at Quantico, FBI agents are assigned to various locations in the United States. According to Ungar (1975), the better agents are located in big cities. "Certain offices take on a unique character because of their location, their leadership, and the people assigned there" (Ungar, 639).

The FBI maintains fifty-six field offices and hundreds of resident agencies specialized field installations and foreign posts. New recruits are given some choice as to where they are assigned, though the FBI reserves the right to station personnel based on an individual's skills and the agency's needs. Agents can request transfers to different posts after they are initially assigned (Northway, 3).

Hawk (1998-1999) describes the FBI as being very dangerous and stressful. Forty-hour weeks with overtime are very common. An agent is subject to call at anytime.

Schaller states, "Once you have become and agent, you are issued a weapon, a car, a desk, a laptop computer, and cases." She later states, "Being an FBI agent is much different than just the normal 'ole police officer. Very seldom do agents actually come in contact with the suspect as do police officers."

According to Jeffreys (1995), "FBI agents uphold the law through the investigation of violations of Federal criminal statutes. The FBI also is to protect the United States from hostile intelligence efforts. Also to provide assistance to other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and to perform those responsibilities in a manner that is faithful to the constitution and laws of the United States."

Some FBI activities include investigations into organized crime, white-collar crime, public corruption, financial crime, fraud against the government, bribery, copyright matters, civil rights violations, bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping, air piracy, terrorism, foreign counterintelligence, interstate criminal activity, drug-trafficking matters, and other violations of federal statutes (www.fbi.gov).

According to Hawk (1998-1999), special agents are plain-clothes investigators who gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. Whether on or off duty, special agents are expected to exercise their authority whenever necessary. Other activities may include to conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities of suspects, participate in raids or arrests, surveillance, monitor court authorized wiretaps, collect evidence of espionage activities, or participate in sensitive undercover assignments. There are many more to list. Altogether, there are over 260 statutes.

"Technologically, both the FBI and the bad guys are rapidly advancing. As the FBI becomes more computer smart, the criminals just get smarter." Because of this, the FBI is in demand of electronic technicians, computer specialists, and pilots (Schaller, 1999).

Jeffreys (1995) describes the SWAT team as being dressed in all-black combat fatigues. "Even the clad weapons such as the 9mm SIG pistols, pump shotguns, Heckler & Koch MP-5, or the submachine guns would make Rambo envious." They also carry radios, ammunition, belt buckles, bootlaces, body armor, goggles, and bulletproof helmets.

Douglas (1998) states a few good points when he says, "Do your homework. Actually get out and get to know the suspect. Look for his or her weak spot such as their kids. Look for common ground. This meaning, they are a person just like you. You both might have grown up in the same neighborhood for all you know. Knowing this will give you an edge to control the situation. Know you are the big dog."

"Some of the big advantages of working for the FBI are the feelings of enjoyment when you know you have helped someone out and made a difference in their lives. In addition, when justice is served, you have the feeling of relief in a way." Other advantages include the excellent benefits, salary, working with people with integrity, and working with high authority (Schaller, 1999).

Schaller (1999) describes the disadvantages of being an agent. First, the danger of the job, one needs to be prepared both physically and mentally for anything whether it is self-defense or to go in and look at a very gory crime scene. Secondly, the long hours and weekends of work. Finally, the traveling, or movement around the nation.

In 1996, starting out pay was about $42,250 a year with availability pay. The pay can progress to $55,000 until one can become a supervisory agent. Then he or she will bring in about $66,000 a year (Hawk, 1998-1999). Schaller (1999) says that after training, the pay automatically increases twenty-five percent.

There are also traditional government employee benefits and an attractive health insurance plan. An agent may retire at age fifty after twenty years of service (Northway, 3).

Annual leave is granted for vacations, rest, and other personal reasons. Sick leave is available for use when an employee or employee's family member is ill or need to visit a doctor, dentist, or other health care provider for examination or treatment. Leave is also permitted for military and voting purposes as well as for jury service and witness duty under certain conditions. Annual leave accumulates to an employee's credit on a graduated basis according to the length of his or her federal government service (civilian or military). Full-time employees accrue annual leave as shown on the endnote chart. Other benefits include paid holidays, family and medical leave, maternity leave, paternity leave, and family friendly leave (www.fbi.gov).

As an FBI employee, a variety of benefits are offered. These include group health and life insurance programs, vacation and sick pay, and a full retirement plan (www.fbi.gov).

The agents hired in the 1970's are approaching the retirement age of fifty-seven years. The result is that the FBI is seriously undermanned. Within five years, forty percent of the special agents in the field will have five years or less of experience. In dealing with this dilemma, the duties of the FBI have changed and its personnel needs have evolved accordingly (Northway, 2).

One decision an agent can make is whether he or she wants to be considered for administrative advancement in the Bureau. This means filling in for supervisor's absence. With any luck from this position, he or she will move on up the ladder. The best job in the FBI, in the view of most veterans, is that of the special-agent-in-charge. Many spend twenty to twenty-five years trying to reach this position (Ungar, 423). Ungar stresses, "The most successful agents are pragmatists and risk-takers in the extreme!"

Throughout your career with the FBI, one can qualify for additional training and promotion to a variety of administrative and supervisory positions. Special agents enter service as GS-10 employees on the government pay scale (see chart endnote) and can advance to the GS-13 grade level in field non-supervisory assignments. Promotions to supervisory, management, and executive positions are available in grades GS-14 and GS15 as well as in the Senior Executive service. All special agents qualify for availability pay (www.fbi.gov).

Hawk (1998-1999) explains, "Employment of the FBI is expected to increase rapidly through the year 2,006. Much of this is due to a more security-conscious society and concern about drug-related crimes."

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