With an estimated annual salary of between $71,000 and $93,000, plus benefits, becoming an FBI special agent seems like an attractive prospect.
But the pool of prospective applicants for the role shrank for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, according to a new report by the Wall Street Journal. The bureau said that a healthy pool consists of about 16,000 candidates, but last year, it attracted only about 11,500.
The FBI employs about 35,000 people, about 13,000 of whom work as special agents. FBI special agents are responsible for conducting “sensitive national security investigations and enforcing more than 300 federal statutes,” according to the bureau. Special agents work on cases involving terrorism, organized crime, cybercrime, civil rights violations, and much more.
The application process is arduous: Candidates undergo a thorough background check, credit checks, and a lie detector test to receive a “top-secret clearance.” They also have to complete approximately 21 weeks of training at FBI’s headquarters in Quantico, Virginia.
Life as a special agent can also bring challenges to a person’s personal life or relationships: Special agents should be prepared to move numerous times through their career, even to new countries; work at least 50 hours a week; and be on call 24/7, according to the bureau.
Still, recruitment officials at the FBI are puzzled about what’s behind the lack of interest.
“We had a lot of discussion internally about why the number of special agent applications were fluctuating so much over the years,” Peter Sursi, head of recruitment and hiring at the FBI, told the Journal. “We were trying to figure out what’s the story.”
The downturn started in 2013, years before President Donald Trump took office and set in motion a series of dramatic leadership changes at the bureau. The FBI, intended to operate as an apolitical body, has weathered protracted attacks from the president as a result of the ongoing investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In 2009, the number of prospective applicants soared to more than 68,000. At that time, Robert Mueller — who’s now the special counsel leading the Russia investigation — was director of the FBI. He took office only days before the 9/11 attacks and turned over the reins to James Comey in 2013. Comey was fired by Trump in May 2017.
Cover image: FBI agents carry waterproof cases containing newly 3d printed decoy heads, used to mount a famous prison escape in 1962, to a news conference on Alcatraz Island Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)