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Customs Patrol Enforcement Positions
Significant Points

This series covers two-grade interval administrative positions that supervise, lead, or perform work that involves:

  • detecting and preventing smuggling, theft, pilferage, or diversion of contraband and controlled substances and materials into or out of the United States;
  • onducting surveillance at, around, and between international ports of entry to the United States; and
  • apprehending suspected violators of the criminal provisions of the customs laws of the United States.
  • Work requires:

  • knowledge of customs and related laws, and precedent decisions;
  • the skill to evaluate information, make timely decisions, and exercise judgment to take appropriate actions in all situations; and
  • standard investigative and law enforcement procedures to enforce the customs laws and other Federal laws.
  • Nature of the Work

    General Occupational Information

    The primary function of customs patrol agents is the enforcement of U.S. customs laws and other criminal codes.

    Customs patrol agents apprehend known and/or suspected violators of Federal and related laws in their assigned area. To accomplish this, agents engage in a number of operations and carry out duties to detect and prevent smuggling and contraband movements at, in the vicinity of, and between international ports of entry of the United States.

    Persons and groups who engage in smuggling or who attempt to import contraband or intercept illegal export merchandise do so in a variety of ways. Some smuggling methods include:

  • land crossings of the international boundary;
  • use of vehicles with concealed compartments;
  • use of aircraft; and
  • hiding small packets in body cavities; luggage and toiletry articles; or a variety of innovative and cleverly concealed places.
  • Customs patrol agents must determine whether to seize contraband at the time of arrest or initiate a surveillance in order to identify and apprehend additional co-conspirators. Agents must take into consideration the totality of the situation and decide whether to commit additional resources. Trends that influence customs patrol work include:

  • volume (bulk, type, and number of shipments) of smuggler and contraband movements;
  • sophistication, ingenuity, and use of technology to smuggle contraband into or out of the United States;
  • international trafficking in contraband, particularly narcotics, often involving organized criminal elements;
  • continuing demand and the resultant increased trafficking of narcotics and other illegal or controlled substances;
  • sensitivity to public attitudes toward law enforcement agents, including attempts by some citizens to hinder law enforcement activities; and
  • awareness and concern for the rights of persons apprehended, questioned, or held in connection with suspected criminal violations.
  • Authority of Customs Patrol Agents

    Customs laws permit agents to detain, interrogate, and arrest suspects and assist in prosecution by the Office of the U.S. Attorney or turn suspects over to State or local law enforcement agencies for prosecution. They seize baggage, merchandise, cargo, vehicles, and aircraft used in smuggling or transporting contraband. Customs patrol agents have the authority to board private and commercial carriers to search for contraband and evidence of smuggled goods. Agents are also empowered to execute warrants and other processes issued by competent judicial authority. Customs patrol agents initiate formal investigations based on information received though various sources.

    Persons apprehended by customs patrol agents are already in the United States; therefore, the burden of proof concerning the illegality of their actions or activities rests with the agent who apprehends them. Any violation of laws is established by interrogation, by the use of witnesses, by reliable documentary evidence, or by the persons having contraband or smuggled materials in their possession.

    Agents must be aware of and responsive to changes in customs patrol directives arising from court decisions, judicial rulings, and precedents. They must also be aware of changes in laws, conventions, and international trade agreements, and various export control acts, endangered species acts, international agreements and conventions relating to stolen materials, and criminal codes.

    In detaining and interrogating persons and examining physical evidence (e.g., documents in their possession, law enforcement database information, tracks, signs of passage, sweepings, or contraband), the customs patrol agent must make judgments on such key elements as:

  • which of the laws enforced by the U.S. Customs Service has been violated, and whether the person involved is connected with the violation; and
  • admissibility and significance of evidence collected (i.e., all evidence must be collected, protected and recorded properly, and the "chain-of-custody" must be unbroken).
  • There must be probable cause and a reasonable assurance that a violation has occurred and that the suspect has committed it. Interrogations, searches, seizures, and arrests must be conducted in total conformity with pertinent laws and precedents regarding the rights of citizens and aliens.

    Typical Duties and Functions

    International Boundary Operations. Operating in areas adjacent to international boundaries, customs patrol agents:

  • maintain general surveillance, observe people and events, and detain and question people when necessary in order to detect possible smuggling;
  • use covert locations, such as listening posts/observation posts (LP/OP) to conduct extended surveillance of suspected illicit movements and activities, trends and patterns;
  • establish the identity of individuals and relationships to organized smuggling groups;
  • establish information about methods of operation;
  • investigate suspected smuggling activity;
  • collect information on movements of backpackers, horses, vehicles, and planes; and
  • act on the information to interdict smuggling.
  • Tracking and Sign Cutting. Customs patrol agents:

  • visually detect and interpret marks, tracks, and other physical evidence left by the movements of people, animals, vehicles, or other objects at or near international boundaries;
  • determine whether the tracks are from local ranchers, hunters, recreational hikers, illegal aliens, or smugglers;
  • categorize horse tracks to determine if horses are just grazing, if ranchers are using them, or if they are being used by smugglers;
  • apply the indications and physical evidence obtained through sign cutting to formulate conclusions if the signs are left by smugglers; e.g., how heavy the load is by the depth of the prints, how often they rest, how many different tracks there are, and the routes they take.
  • Sensor System Operations. Customs patrol agents implant, camouflage, and adapt sensor systems using a thorough knowledge of the terrain and smuggling routes. Agents may locate the sensors semi-permanently or in temporary arrays based on the type of operation or intelligence of new smuggling routes.

    Air Operations. In order to track and intercept backpackers, horses, vehicles, and other transportation used in smuggling, customs patrol agents:

  • use air support to visually observe movements;
  • use mounted electronic devices;
  • coordinate ground teams in locating and surrounding smugglers; and
  • assist pilots in navigating unfamiliar or hazardous terrain.
  • Special and Joint Operations. Customs patrol agents plan and conduct special operations pooling the manpower and law enforcement authorities from other agencies. Agents conduct these operations at high trafficking seasons, or when intelligence information indicates an increase in smuggling activities. They may target a known smuggling route or set up a perimeter to funnel the traffickers.

    Intelligence Operations. Customs patrol agents:

  • gather information during the initial investigation about smuggling routes, staging houses, persons involved, organized operations, vehicles used, and smuggling frequency in the area of responsibility;
  • correlate, refine, evaluate, analyze, and use information collected from a variety of other sources (including paid and unpaid informants, reports from various State and local law enforcement agencies, private citizens and law enforcement databases);
  • plan and direct operational activities for a geographic area; and
  • initiate safety alerts to other law enforcement agencies on trends such as types of weapons used and methods of concealment.
  • Liaison and Training. Customs patrol agents must be alert to information that affects not only their activities, but also the activities of other Federal, State and local law enforcement agents. Customs patrol agents:

  • initiate and maintain good working relations with local, State, and Federal agencies;
  • establish and maintain contacts with other persons who are in a position to obtain and provide information pertinent to suspected violations of the law;
  • assist in investigations with Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies; and
  • train counterparts as part of international cooperative agreements with other countries in areas such as:
  • teaching tracking, how to identify patterns, and how to tactically approach smugglers;
  • meeting with ambassadors, high-ranking officials, and general agents; and
  • serving as representatives of the U.S. Customs Service.
  • Border Safety and Rescue Operations. Due to their expertise in tracking and sign cutting, border safety and rescue operations are an integral aspect of everyday customs patrol enforcement operations. In the remote areas where they work, customs patrol agents are usually the first on the scene. Trained in trauma management, agents:

  • evaluate the extent of medical aid required;
  • administer first aid in a variety of situations including wounded agents, illegals who may be disoriented and dehydrated, or vehicle accidents;
  • respond to downed private and military aircraft, secure the area, locate pilots, and administer required first aid; and
  • track criminals or lost and missing persons, or locate murder victims for other law enforcement agencies.
  • Public Relations. Customs patrol agents must be aware of and sensitive to the effect their actions, behavior, manner, and bearing have on the public, both citizens and noncitizens, and on international relations across the border. They must:

  • maintain control of difficult, sensitive, and dangerous situations;
  • be tactful and courteous;
  • display fairness and understanding; and
  • respect the rights of persons encountered.
  • Hazards in Customs Patrol Work. Customs patrol agents must be alert to hostile and unpredictable behavior by persons apprehended for suspected violations of customs, immigration, narcotics, controlled substance and other Federal laws. Agents encounter a variety of persons, including dangerous criminals carrying narcotics, contraband, and/or other illegal goods. Agents must be able to react instantly to threats of harm to themselves or to others. Other examples of hazards routinely encountered include:

  • operating automobiles and specialty vehicles in pursuit;
  • stopping suspicious vehicles;
  • tracking on horseback or on foot over dangerous terrain in remote areas;
  • working in inhospitable climates; and
  • being exposed to hazardous materials and chemicals in the work environment (e.g., drugs and polluted waterways).
  • Individual Occupational Requirements


    The following table shows the amounts of education and/or experience required to qualify for positions covered by this standard.

    General Specialized
    GS-5 4-year course of study above high school leading to a bachelor's degree 1 year equivalent to at least GS-4 None
    GS-7 1 full academic year of graduate education or law school or
    superior academic achievement
    None 1 year equivalent to at least GS-5
    GS-9 None None 1 year equivalent to at least GS-7
    GS-11 None None 1 year equivalent to at least GS-9
    GS-12 and above None None 1 year equivalent to at least next lower grade level

    Equivalent combinations of education and experience are qualifying for grade levels for which both education and experience are acceptable. Note that academic study may be prorated to allow combinations of education and experience that total 1 year for GS-5, e.g., 1 year of college study is equivalent to 3 months of general experience, 2 years of study to 6 months of general experience, and 3 years of study to 9 months of general experience.


    Undergraduate Education: Major study -- any field.
    Graduate Education: Major study -- fields related to law enforcement, e.g., police science, or law school education meets the requirements for GS-7.
    Education is not creditable for positions above the GS-7 level.



    General Experience (for GS-5 positions): Experience that demonstrated the ability to:

    • Take charge, maintain composure, and make sound decisions in stressful situations.
    • Learn law enforcement regulations, methods, and techniques through classroom training and/or on-the-job instruction.
    • Gather factual information through questioning, observation, and examination of documents and records.

    These abilities may have been gained in positions such as:

    • Interviewer in a public or private service agency who deals with requests for services or benefits; and who explains, interprets, and applies rules, regulations, and procedures.
    • Claims adjuster or journalist whose work requires gathering information through public contacts.
    • Participant in community action programs who performs work such as volunteer teaching or counseling.
    • Building guard, prison guard, institutional police, or similar position that requires learning regulations and dealing with people.
    • Customer relations work that requires the applicant to obtain accurate information, make logical determinations, and resolve practical problems.

    Specialized Experience (for positions above GS-5): Experience in law enforcement or other responsible work that demonstrated the ability to:

    • Make arrests and exercise sound judgment in the use of firearms.
    • Deal effectively with individuals or groups of persons in a courteous, tactful manner in connection with law enforcement matters.
    • Analyze information rapidly and make prompt decisions or take prompt and appropriate law enforcement action in light of applicable laws, court decisions, and sound law enforcement procedures.
    • Develop and maintain contact with a network of informants.

    These abilities may have been gained in work such as:

    • Inspection of persons and their records to determine their eligibility to enter the United States under immigration laws.
    • Correctional or rehabilitation work involving criminal offenders, or residents in public or private institutions.
    • Criminal investigation, police officer, or other law enforcement work that required the ability to plan and conduct investigations, plan and make arrests, serve court orders, use firearms, and deal with people in a persuasive, tactful, and resourceful manner.

    For positions at GS-9 and above, experience must have included interpreting and enforcing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or comparable laws, rules, and regulations.


    Refer to Section V of this Manual for information about test requirements. Also, since all Agents must learn the Spanish language, applicants must successfully complete a language test (in addition to the written test requirement for competitive appointment at grades GS-5 and GS-7). Those who do not speak Spanish will undergo an artificial language test (ALT) designed to assess their ability to learn Spanish. Those who are fluent in the Spanish language will be given the choice of taking the ALT or a Spanish proficiency test. Both tests will be administered on a pass/fail basis.


    Border Patrol work requires the ability to speak and read Spanish as well as English. All persons appointed are instructed in speaking and reading Spanish as part of the basic training for Border Patrol Agents, and must be proficient by the final probationary examination (usually 10 months after entry on duty).


    All positions require qualification in the use of firearms. Proficiency with standard issue firearms must be demonstrated for successful completion of training. All Agents are required to carry a handgun in the performance of their duties, and to qualify periodically with that handgun.


    Applicants must possess a valid driver's license at the time of appointment. They must qualify to operate motor vehicles in accordance with applicable government regulations after they are hired.


    Applicants for all grade levels must demonstrate in a pre-employment interview that they possess the traits and characteristics important to Border Patrol Agent positions. These include judgment, problem solving, emotional stability, and interpersonal skills.


    Under the authority of Public Law 100-238, the U. S. Department of Justice has established the date immediately preceding one's 37th birthday as the maximum age for original entry into the position of Border Patrol Agent.


    The duties of positions in this series involve physical exertion under rigorous environmental conditions including unpredictable exposure to loud sounds, stress, and extremes of heat and cold; irregular and protracted hours of work over rugged terrain; patrol duties on foot, motor vehicle, and aircraft; and participation in physical training. Applicants must be in sound physical condition and of good muscular development.

    Vision: inocular vision is required and must test 20/40 (Snellen) without corrective lenses. Uncorrected vision must test at least 20/70 in each eye. Vision in each eye must be corrected to 20/20. Near vision, corrected or uncorrected, must be sufficient to read Jaeger Type 2 at 14 inches. Ability to distinguish basic colors by pseudoisochromatic plate test (missing no more than four plates) is required, as is normal peripheral vision. Based on the results of clinical studies of candidates who have undergone Radial Keratotomy eye operations to correct vision defects, the medical techniques of Radial Keratotomy or Orthokeratology will not be accepted as a means of meeting Border Patrol Agent vision requirements.

    Hearing: Using an audiometer for measurement, there should be no loss of 30 or more decibels in each ear at the 500, 1000, and 2000 Hz levels.

    Speech: Diseases or conditions resulting in indistinct speech are disqualifying.

    Respiratory System: Any chronic disease or condition affecting the respiratory system that would impair the full performance of duties of the position is disqualifying, e.g., conditions that result in reduced pulmonary function, shortness of breath, or painful respiration.

    Cardiovascular System: The following conditions are disqualifying: organic heart disease (compensated or not), hypertension with repeated readings that exceed 150 systolic and 90 diastolic without medication, and symptomatic peripheral vascular disease and severe varicose veins.

    Gastrointestinal System: Chronic symptomatic diseases or conditions of the gastrointestinal tract are disqualifying. Medical conditions requiring long-term use of medication(s) may be disqualifying. Each case will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis prior to any employment decision.

    Endocrine System: Systemic metabolic disease that is likely to affect job performance adversely, such as uncontrolled diabetes, is disqualifying.

    Genito Urinary Disorders: Chronic, symptomatic diseases or conditions of the genito urinary tract are disqualifying.

    Extremities and Spine: Any deformity or disease that would interfere with range of motion or dexterity to the extent that it would affect adversely the full performance of the duties of the position is disqualifying.

    Hernias: Inguinal and femoral hernias with or without the use of a truss are disqualifying. Other hernias are disqualifying if they interfere with performance of the duties of the position.

    Nervous System: Applicants must possess emotional and mental stability with no history of a basic personality disorder. Any neurological disorder that could result in seizures, convulsions, loss of consciousness, or decreased neurological or muscular function is disqualifying.

    Miscellaneous: Though not mentioned specifically above, any other disease or condition that interferes with the full performance of duties is also grounds for medical rejection. Before entrance on duty, all applicants must undergo a pre-employment medical examination and be medically suitable to perform the full range of duties of the position efficiently and without hazard to themselves and others. Failure to meet any one of the required medical qualifications will be disqualifying for appointment. These standards are considered minimum standards and will not be waived in any case. Applicants found to have a correctable condition may be restored to any existing list of eligibles for further consideration for appointment when the disqualifying condition is satisfactorily corrected or eliminated.


    Additional Sources

    Information on obtaining Customs Patrol Enforcement positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

    Source: OPM's Position Classification Standards for White Collar Work

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