How Much Does an FBI Agent Make?
By David Hathaway
$121,097. Every journeyman, non-supervisory, regular ordinary plain-Jane FBI agent with five years on the job and with no particular job specialty or unique pay enhancement (like flight pay, Sunday pay, scheduled overtime pay, hazardous duty pay, foreign COLA pay, post differential, night differential, housing allowance, danger pay, travel per diem, temporary quarters allowances, or reimbursable undercover expenses), makes $121,097 if he works in the Washington, Baltimore, Maryland, or Northern Virginia area. If he works in the San Francisco area, he makes $131,752. If he works in Houston, he makes $125,475. The differences are based on “locality pay” which is an automatic premium pay added onto the salaries of all federal law enforcement officers. Agents, in all locations in the U.S., even the ones with the lowest cost of living, receive extra law enforcement locality pay. The lowest paying locale in the U.S. would have this same agent earning the bottom rung locality-enhanced salary of $111,290.
After five years (sometimes as few as three) on the job, most FBI agents cross over into the journeyman non-supervisory pay grade of GS-13, typically landing at the level of GS-13, step 3 on the pay chart after spending the prior three years as a GS-12. The first and second year on the job are spent at the GS-10 and GS-11 levels. The standard pay for all FBI agents is calculated by starting with the base pay from the General Schedule (GS) pay chart and adding the percentage for locality pay. The extra locality pay varies by geographic area from 14.16% on the low end to 35.15% on the high end.
Then, added to this locality-enhanced number is an additional 25% for the universal “premium pay” received by all agents, regardless of hours worked, known variously over the years as either “availability pay” or “administratively uncontrollable overtime.” This pay does not vary paycheck by paycheck. It is always the same.
Once again, these two forms of premium pay are received universally by all FBI agents in the U.S. regardless of hours worked and are added automatically onto base pay. They are even received while taking vacation time or sick days when no hours at all are being worked.
These amounts above are only reflective of the pay an FBI agent receives when he first crosses over into journeyman status at about the three to five year mark. His pay, however, continues to increase for the rest of his career with many FBI agents reaching the congressionally designated “salary cap” which is the maximum amount any GS (non-executive) federal employee can receive. The automatic law enforcement locality pay and availability pay enhancements cause agents to hit this maximum allowable number sooner than other federal employees who don’t have these built-in automatic enhancements to base pay. When they reach this cap, they are, as are all GS employees, restricted from earning more. This pay cap is often reached during an agent’s career progression with only the two automatically received (availability and locality) forms of premium pay factored in. The limit may be exceeded, in effect, when certain other forms of pay and benefits are received that are not included when computing progress towards the limit. The cap is currently set at $158,700 and goes up occasionally.
Further enhancements to agents’ pay can come from such things as “scheduled” overtime, hazardous duty / flight pay, danger pay, Sunday pay, and night differential. It has happened, on occasion, that politically-appointed federal law enforcement agency heads have become upset when they learn that some of their agents earn more than the agency heads. The built-in pay enhancements cause agent pay to approach and even surpass that received by high-level managers in other agencies who don’t receive availability pay and locality pay. Pay continues to rise throughout the agent’s career through built-in “step increases” even when additional promotions are not received. And, of course, agent pay goes up when across-the-board pay raises are received by all federal employees.
Travel and per diem expenses on “temporary duty” are not factored in when calculating salaries and pay caps. The per diem payments are not taxable and do not show up on tax documents as part of pay. It is quite common for agents to be on temporary duty status for long periods of time. The amount of per diem (for lodging, food, and other expenses) often exceeds $200 per day and depends on the federally determined cost of living for the area of temporary duty.
An agent may be assigned officially to a high “locality pay” area, but spend much of his time in another different high cost of living area in a “temporary duty” status thereby entitling him to earn a high daily per diem on top of the high locality pay automatically appearing on his paycheck for his office of record. For example, an agent on a temporary duty assignment to New York City during the months of September through December would be allowed, per federal travel regulations, a daily per diem total of $375 ($304 for lodging and $71 for food and miscellaneous expenses). Other expenses during the temporary assignment including rental car, taxi expense, tolls, office supplies, undercover meals, training and equipment can often be claimed separately above and beyond allowed per diem amounts while on temporary duty.
To really clean up, an agent living in a high locality pay area might also volunteer for a foreign temporary duty assignment where he will earn high daily per diem, danger pay, hazardous duty pay, foreign COLA, and post differential and maybe a few other things like Sunday pay, night differential, and scheduled overtime on top of his already high stateside locality pay.
So, lesson number one for you young FBI agents looking to further enhance your six-digit base salaries, remember that when you employ provocateurs, make sure they have instructions to travel, and preferably to go someplace expensive.