What Is Law Enforcement Availability Pay?

How LEAP Means Extra Cash for Federal Agents

FBI Agent Working in Austin, TX

 Scott Olson / Getty Images 

In the world of criminal justice, federal law enforcement jobs, especially for special agents, are among the highest paying careers available. With base salaries starting in the mid to high $40K range, and the potential to earn much more as you progress through your career, as well as health and retirement benefits to boot, it's hard to imagine how they could be more financially rewarding. But believe it or not, they are.

Besides great starting pay, special agent jobs with the U.S. Federal Government offer other premium payment packages, including extra pay to compensate for the extra hours agents are often expected to work. This paid program, called Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP), is paid out on top of the base salary and makes up a significant supplement to any agent's income.

Why Is Law Enforcement Availability Pay Offered?

Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) was made available to federal agents in recognition of the fact that they need to be generally available to go to work at any time, even outside of their regular workweek or working hours.

Whether to oversee a surveillance operation, a big break in a case, or just the long ​hours generally associated with a day in the life of a criminal investigator, a standard 40-hour workweek is often not near enough time to get the job done. LEAP ensures agents are available and provides payment for the extra work they will inevitably perform.

Who Gets LEAP?

Not everyone who works in federal law enforcement careers is eligible to receive LEAP. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, only criminal investigators, those specified in job class 1811 in the Federal Civil Service System, and game law enforcement agents, job class 1812, can collect LEAP. This means that uniformed law enforcement officers such as the FBI Police and Uniformed Secret Service Officers don't qualify.

In addition to having the proper job classification, federal agents must work an average of two hours extra per workday. Essentially, an agent's average workweek must be at least 50 hours, as opposed to 40 hours, to qualify.

Agents who qualify for LEAP include:

  • ICE Agents
  • ATF Agents
  • Department of Defense Special Agents
  • DEA Agents
  • Diplomatic Security Agents 
  • Customs Agents
  • NCIS Agents
  • FBI Agents
  • U.S. Deputy Marshals
  • Secret Service Agents
  • Air Force Special Agents
  • U.S. Postal Inspectors

Agents and their superiors must certify annually that they worked an average of two extra hours per day during the past year and that they anticipate working those hours again next year.

What Are the Benefits?

For the agent, the obvious benefit of the LEAP program is the extra money earned on top of the base salary. Most professionals in nearly every industry will tell you they work far more than 40 hours in a week; for agents, it's a great perk to get compensated for it.

For the federal government, Law Enforcement Availability Pay actually may save money. The long hours agents often must work to see a case through could lead to massive overtime payments. Agents who receive LEAP, however, are ineligible for other forms of overtime pay.

Whether they work a 60-hour week or a 40-hour week, they'll receive the same pay. In this way, overtime is compensated, but it is also budgeted for so that there are far fewer unanticipated expenses.

How Much Can Agents Earn?

Agents who are eligible for LEAP receive an extra 25% of their base salary. For a person who earns $45,000 per year, LEAP means another $11,250. For agents earning $65,000 annually, LEAP will mean an extra $16,250.

There's one caveat: LEAP and other payments cannot exceed the maximum bi-weekly payment within a given pay step. Even so, LEAP can make a huge difference in any agent's final compensation, making it a great possibility for criminal justice job seekers.