The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

General Information:

ATF has primary responsibility for investigating violations of federal law relating to firearms, explosives, arson, and alcohol/tobacco diversion.  With approximately 2,400 special agents, ATF operates 25 field divisions throughout the United States and has overseas attache offices in approximately half dozen countries.

ATF has a fascinating history that dates back to 1886 with the U.S. department of the Treasury.  It soon battled organized crime during the prohibition era when it was re-branded as the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1920.  It later underwent several organizational changes until the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, when it was finally named the ATF.  Additional information concerning the history of the ATF can be found in this detailed article:  The Badges Tell The Story

ATF is a premier agency within the Department of Justice and their criminal investigators are subject matter experts when it comes to firearms and explosives.  New special agents can expect to be involved in apprehending some of most dangerous felons in the U.S.  The ATF 2010-2016 Strategic Plan offers a unique insight into this agency and I highly encourage potential applicants to read this document.

Hiring Process:

ATF has had very limited hiring announcements over the last few years.  Expect the hiring process to take 1-2 years.

ATF does have a Foreign Language Award Program.  The ATF also has both paid and unpaid internship programs.  See the link above for details.

See the minimum qualifications for the ATF special agent position.

New applicants should regularly check the ATF website  and sign-up for vacancy alerts.  Announcements are also posted on USA, where applicants must eventually go to apply for ATF special agent vacancies.  Applicants must wait for the limited time vacancy announcement to open on and apply immediately.  Once the announcement is closed, applicants are evaluated as follows:

1.  Application and Online Questionnaire

2.  ATF Special Agent Exam & Assessment Test

3.  Pre-employment Physical Task Test

4.  Panel Interview & Writing Sample

5.  Drug Test

6.  Medical Test

7.  Polygraph Examination

8.  Background Investigation

Once all phases are completed, the best candidates are selected to attend the academy.

See sample questions from the ATF Special Agent exam.

The ATF Physical Task Test (Fitness Test) is a challenging exam.  See the link below for details.

Additional information concerning the selection and hiring process can be found in the Special Agent Informational Packet.


All special agent trainees must complete the basic Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP) and the Special Agent Basic Training (SABT) at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.  In total, the academy will be approximately 27 weeks long.

Additional information concerning the training can be found below at this ATF Training Page.


ATF Career Page:  Additional information concerning the fitness test, special agent exam, and other frequently asked questions can be found at this link.

ATF YouTube Site

CBS Story – ATF Special Agent Training

Waco:  The Inside Story (Frontline PBS)

ATF Wikipedia Article

ATF Association


No Angel:  My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels (2010)

Under & Alone:  The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America’s Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (2007)

Very Special Agents (2001)

Exploits of a Real ATF Agent (2012)