How to become an ATF Special Agent

Selection Process

To become an ATF Special Agent, candidates will be competing against some of the most highly qualified law enforcement and military professionals in the country. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives only selects about five percent of candidates to enter the basic training program, so exceptional qualities are almost always necessary to stand out as a candidate.

To begin the application process, you must first visit and find an opening for ATF Special Agent. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives only makes this position available for certain periods of time, so it is important to respond immediately if an opening is posted. You should carefully read the details of the application process and follow them exactly.

You should prepare and post a resume on the USAJobs site. You will then be transferred to CareerConnector, where you must complete a quick questionnaire. These questions ensure that you meet the minimum requirements necessary for consideration for this position. You will also be required to submit the necessary documents including a completed and accurate application, transcripts, military service records and employment history. You may also be required to complete and submit additional forms like a Narrative Statement of Technical Qualifications.

If your application is approved, you must sit for the ATF Special Agent Examination which is a written test that includes:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Investigative Reasoning

If you pass the ATF Special Agent Examination, you must successfully complete the Pre-Employment Physical Task Test. Each candidate will only be allowed a single attempt at each component of the PTT with a minimal rest period between each test.

Successful completion of the Pre-Employment Physical Task Test is followed by the Panel Interview. This is a formal interview conducted by veteran ATF personnel. Questions and topics in the Panel Interview are not released to the public.

If you pass all stages of the selection process up to this point, you will be offered a Conditional Offer of Employment. You must, however, pass various evaluations following this Offer. You will be scheduled for a drug test, followed by a polygraph exam and then a medical evaluation. Your background investigation will then be conducted. At this point, you will be asked to attend Special Agent Basic Training (SABT) and Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP). The entire selection process may take from eight to 18 months.

Physical Requirements

In order to join the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as a Special Agent, all candidates must demonstrate that they are physically capable of completing the arduous training program as well as perform the many taxing responsibilities of a professional law enforcement officer. The ATF requires that a Special Agent candidates complete a three part Pre-Employment Physical Task Test (PTT). The components of this test include

  • Sit-ups—the candidate must complete as many sit-ups as possible within a one minute period.
  • Push-ups—the candidate must complete as many push-ups as possible within a one minute period.
  • 1.5 mile run—candidates must continuously run across 1.5 miles within a set amount of time.

The minimum requirements for each component of the PTT is dependent upon their age and gender. The PTT will be administered during the selection process as well as during the first week of basic training.


In order to serve as an ATF Special Agent, new recruits must complete two training programs: Special Agent Basic Training (SABT) and Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP). Both of these programs are held at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA. These two training modules may be completed consecutively or at separate times of the year.

The Criminal Investigator Training Program is a 12 week training program that trains criminal investigator trainees from a variety of federal law enforcement agencies. CITP includes training in

  • Surveillance
  • Firearms
  • Handcuffing
  • Driving techniques
  • Crime Scene management
  • Interviewing
  • Photography
  • Federal court procedures
  • Physical techniques

The Special Agent Basic Training module is an intensive 15 week training program designed specifically for ATF field agents. While many of the topics covered in SABT overlap with CITP, they are refined for use in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The topics of instruction include

  • Alcohol and tobacco diversion investigations
  • Explosives and arson investigations
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Firearms trafficking
  • Report writing
  • Firearms and ammunition identification
  • Undercover techniques
  • Physical conditioning
  • Close quarter countermeasures
  • Field operations
  • Firearms and tactical training

In order to serve as an ATF Special Agent, new recruits must successfully complete both CITP and SABT training programs.

Following basic training, Special Agents must complete three years of probationary service. During this period, the performance of the agent will be closely evaluated to ensure acceptable levels of service. If the performance is not up to standard, the ATF has the right to terminate employment.

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