How to become a DEA Special Agent
In order to become a special agent within the DEA, one must undergo a rigorous, in-depth selection process that can last well over a year. Applicants proceed through various phases of the selection process, all leading up to the final hiring decision made by a recruitment coordinator. Those phases are as follows:
- Qualifications Review – This phase is based on the initial review of the candidate, in which their application and qualifications are reviewed for eligibility to proceed in the hiring process.
- Written Assessment and Panel Interview – A written assessment and panel interview is administered at a Field Division Office if the candidate has met all of the qualification criteria. The purpose of this phase is to learn more about the candidate and verify that their qualifications match the applicant.
- Drug Screening – This urinalysis that aims to ensure candidates are not actively using any type of illicit drugs. A candidate that cannot pass the mandatory drug screening is automatically disqualified.
- Medical Exam – The medical examination is utilized to ensure that a candidate is in healthy physical condition and would be able to tolerate some of the rigorous work agents are required to be involved in. Part of the medical exam is a thorough vision and hearing examination. Candidates who use hearing aids are disqualified immediately, and candidates who do not meet certain vision requirements will also be disqualified.
- Physical Task Test – The Physical Task Test (PTT) is intended to help ensure that all candidates can meet the rigorous physical requirements of being a special agent. This test will target three specific components of physical fitness: flexibility of joints, aerobic fitness and muscular fitness. Those candidates who are unable to complete all of the physical tasks they are presented with will be disqualified.
- Polygraph Exam – The administered polygraph exam is intended to help demonstrate that the information the candidate has provided is in fact true or to the best of their knowledge. Candidates can expect to be asked a number of personal questions regarding their background and behaviors.
- Psychological Evaluation – Because DEA special agents are placed in mentally and emotionally strenuous situations on a regular basis, the agency will also subject candidates to full psychological evaluations. The purpose of the evaluation is to ensure that the individual is mentally able to perform all duties of the position they seek.
- Background Investigation – The background investigation of the selection process is extremely in-depth for candidates seeking employment with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
- Final Hiring Decision – Notification of candidate acceptance or declination is provided in the final phase of the hiring process. Those candidates who are hired will then be required to partake in the required training programs provided by the agency before they are considered an official special agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Once a candidate has been hired, they will be instructed as to the training process they will need to go through in order to become a special agent.
The physical requirement of a DEA agent is never-ending. Even though one might train for the Physical Task Test of their candidacy, it is important to understand that agents should always be in peak physical health. There are three basic components of physical fitness that not only trainees need to have, but agents need to maintain throughout their career: joint flexibility, aerobic fitness and muscular fitness.
Joint Flexibility – Candidates must display joint flexibility and mobility throughout their body in order to perform many of the tasks which they are faced with during the Physical Task Test.
Aerobic Fitness – Aerobic fitness is determined through exposure to rhythmic exercises over an extended period of time that requires increases in muscle metabolism, respiration and circulation. This component is tested through several physical tests, including a long distance run.
Muscular Fitness – To test a candidate’s level of muscular fitness, the Physical Task Test reviews strength, power and endurance.
- Strength is tested by determining the greatest force that a certain muscle group is able to utilize in one fluid movement
- Power is tested by applying resistance to a certain muscle group and determining the rate of movement capable
- Endurance is tested by determining the length of time that a group of muscles is able to utilize available strength
During the Physical Task Test, candidates will be required to pass a number of physical tests including:
- Shuttle run
- 2 mile run
Candidates who are unable to demonstrate these components of physical fitness in the required Physical Task Test will be disqualified from the application process. Please note that the DEA official website does provide a downloadable Physical Task Test booklet which offers plenty of information as to the physical tasks required to pass this portion of the hiring process. It is highly recommended that this booklet be utilized to prepare for the selection process and to help ensure that one is able to perform all of the physical duties involved with the position.
Keep in mind that physical fitness is not merely important during one’s candidacy, but throughout their entire career as a special agent. To be able to fully perform all of the duties required by DEA special agents one must be in peak physical condition at all times.
Training for special agents is conducted in specialized facilities in Quantico, Virginia, and will last for 18 weeks. All hired candidates for the position will be required to complete Basic Agent Training, also known as BAT, before they can begin work as an agent.
Basic Agent Training consists of class sizes anywhere from 40-50 individuals who are required to attend the resident program. Each class is taught a number of different personal and professional skills which can be applied in their future careers. During this time trainees can expect to learn:
- Leadership skills
- Drug recognition skills
- Defensive maneuvers (with an emphasis on physical fitness)
- Firearms training
A combination of practical exercises and examinations will take place throughout the training process to test the skills developed. Each student must maintain an 80% average on all examinations required. Additionally, one must clearly demonstrate their ability to lead others, demonstrate logical decisiveness and firm grasps of all procedural methods used in the field. Strenuous physical examinations will be conducted throughout the course of Basic Agent Training as well.
Training is typically broken down into various programs, each of which is intended to help trainees learn the skills necessary to perform as successful special agents.
Practical Applications Training – This portion of training focuses on the skills that special agents need in order to conduct undercover procedures and surveillance. Everything from report writing to operational planning is taught during this time. By presenting trainees with complex, potentially real-life scenarios, they are challenged to utilize the practical applications taught and sound judgment to identify the best method of dealing with the presented scenario.
Tactical Training – With an emphasis on the strenuous physicality of the special agent position, this portion of training intends to help teach comprehensive defensive tactics and control procedures. The goal of this training is to teach trainees to overcome unarmed and armed attacks in a safe manner.
Firearms Training – Firearms training is 122 hours for all basic trainees. During this time trainees are taught marksmanship, combat skills and the use of protective gear. A number of drills and simulations are presented with the Firearms Automated Training System (FATS), which tests reaction time, shooting skills and decision making capabilities.
Additional training programs may vary based on the position hired for; however the Drug Enforcement Administration is dedicated to providing thorough training for all their employees.