FBI agents -- or "special agents," according to their official title -- earn a salary based on their experience, the office to which they have been assigned, and their work hours, which are longer than those for most federal employees. Put it all together, and an FBI agent can earn well over $10,000 a month. They don't start there, however.
The base pay for salaried federal employees is determined by the General Schedule, a pay scale overseen by the Office of Personnel Management. The General Schedule has 15 grades -- from GS-1, the lowest-paid grade, up to GS-15. Each grade has 10 "steps," based on an employee's service and performance. Federal law enforcement officers, including FBI agents, have a modified GS scale, called "GS LEO," with slightly higher pay rates for GS-3 through GS-10. At the GS grades that apply to FBI agents, Step 10 within a grade has a salary 30 percent higher than Step 1. Because of the steps, there is significant overlap between grades. In 2011, for example, an FBI agent at GS-10 Step 8 made a base salary of $57,979 annually, or about $4,831 a month, while someone at GS-11 Step 1 made only $50,287 annually, or about $4,190 a month.
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According to the FBI, new agents start at GS-10 Step 1 on the law enforcement scale. As of 2011, that meant an annual base salary of $47,297, or $3,941 a month. FBI agents can advance as high as GS-13, which as of 2011 topped out at a base salary of $93,175 a year, or $7,765 a month. The FBI has positions at the GS-14 and GS-15 levels, but those are managerial and supervisory positions -- not field agents.
The FBI has 56 field offices nationwide. The cost of living for agents assigned to, say, New York or San Francisco is going to be considerably higher than for agents stationed in Omaha, Nebraska, or Springfield, Illinois. That's why FBI agents receive a "locality adjustment" based on the office to which they are assigned. As of 2011, locality adjustments ranged from 11 percent to 28.7 percent of base pay. For a GS-10 Step 1 agent, that meant an annual salary of between $52,504 and $60,881, or a monthly rate of $4,375 to $5,073. For a GS-13 Step 10 agent, locality adjustments meant an annual salary of $103,434 to $119,935, for a monthly rate of $8,620 to $9,995.
Most federal employees work 40 hours a week. FBI agents, however, are expected to put in 50 hours a week. As a result, they receive a 25 percent adjustment known as "availability pay." This 25 percent is calculated after locality adjustments are added to an agent's pay. So a GS-10 Step 1 agent, after locality and availability adjustments, makes between $65,630 and $76,101 a year, or $5,469 to $6,342 a month. A GS-13 Step 10 agent, after locality and availability adjustments, can make $129,293 to $149,919 a year, or $10,774 to $12,493 a month.