Criminal investigations into matters related to the U.S. Department of Defense are handled by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), which is part of the Office of the Inspector General.
Like other military investigative services, DCIS special agents are tasked with investigating major crimes that affect the department. Unlike other services, which deal largely with crimes against people, such as murder, sexual assault, battery, or robbery, DCIS agents are primarily responsible for crimes that involve fraud, finances, and threats to national security.
While agents investigate cases that specifically impact the Defense Department, they may investigate private citizens or companies that do business with the government.
DCIS Special Agent Duties & Responsibilities
This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:
- Investigate crimes.
- Collect evidence.
- Preserve evidence.
- Analyze evidence.
- Perform financial audits.
- Examine computers for evidence.
- Testify at legal proceedings.
- Interview witnesses.
- Interview suspects.
The Defense Department purchases tremendous amounts of equipment and materials and executes contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. DCIS special agents are specially trained to investigate financial crimes as well as fraud related to purchasing and contracts. This may include companies or individuals who knowingly or negligently sell poor, defective, or substituted products to the department, particularly when such practices may affect the safety of military personnel. Because Defense Department employees may be complicit in these types of crimes, a major function of DCIS is uncovering public corruption at all levels of defense.
Special agents are also tasked with investigating theft of Defense Department property, especially theft of sensitive systems and technologies that, in the wrong hands, could threaten the security of the military and of the U.S. These investigations include looking into black market organizations and hostile foreign nations and terrorist groups.
DCIS special agents also investigate cyber crimes and protect the nation's defensive technology infrastructure from attack and theft of information. Agents work closely with other federal law enforcement entities.
DCIS Special Agent Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not break down salaries specifically for DCIS special agents, but based on the experience required, salaries should be expected to fall within the following ranges for all criminal investigative careers:
- Median Annual Salary: $81,920 ($39.38/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $138,860 ($66.76/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $43,800 ($21.06/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Education, Training, & Certification
All prospective agents must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 21 and 37. The most competitive candidates will hold, at a minimum, a bachelor's degree and have either prior military or law enforcement investigative experience.
- Security clearance: Security clearance is required for special agent positions, which means a polygraph exam and a fitness-for-duty evaluation is required. The hiring process includes an extensive background investigation, as well as an oral interview, drug tests, and medical evaluations.
- Training: New agents must complete the Criminal Investigator Training Program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, alongside officers and agents from other federal law enforcement agencies. They must also complete a specialized inspector general training course and rigorous DCIS special agent training. Candidates also must participate in a physical abilities test to determine whether or not they're physically capable of performing the functions of the job.
DCIS Special Agent Skills & Competencies
In addition to the experience and special training that goes with being a DCIS special agent, there are several soft skills that can help lead to success with the job.
- People skills: Investigations often involve dealing with people, especially interviewing witnesses and suspects. Good listening and speaking skills are vital to gaining the necessary information from these interviews.
- Analytical skills: Critical thinking is a key part of any investigator’s job. Evidence must be reviewed and questioned every conceivable way, and all possibilities must be eliminated before drawing final conclusions.
- Attention to detail: Even the smallest piece of evidence can prove to be important to a case. Something a witness says that does not seem important at the time may have a major impact on a case. Good agents need to be able to identify all such information.
- Stamina: Working as an agent can be physically grueling, from long hours and travel to the actual physical nature of some of the work.
There are about 340 DCIS special agents, according to the Defense Department’s website. This means there is extensive competition for any openings in the agency, and only those with extensive experience and proven skills are likely to be considered. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track DCIS agents specifically, but job growth for all criminal investigators is projected to be 5% for the decade ending in 2026, and for private detectives and investigators is projected to be 11% for the same time period.
DCIS special agents usually work out of one of seven field offices in the U.S. or five international locations. DCIS maintains three offices in Virginia in addition to its headquarters in the state. There also are field offices in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Texas. Internationally, there are offices in Afghanistan, Germany, Kuwait, Qatar, and South Korea.
As with any investigative job, work schedules can vary greatly depending on the nature, location, and priority of cases. While much work can be done during regular business hours, DCIS special agents need to be available during evenings and on weekends as necessary. Special agents also need to expect to work more than 40 hours per week at times.
How to Get the Job
Keep an eye out for openings at usajobs.gov.
Highlight investigative accomplishments in government or military work and follow other tips for improving your criminal justice resume.
Be prepared to ace the fitness exam. The physical assessment includes a timed 1.5-mile run, a flexibility test, and a minimum number sit-ups and push-ups.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in working as a DCIS special agent also might consider one of the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries:
- Private detective or investigator: $50,090
- Fire inspector: $60,200
- Forensic science technician: $58,230
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018