What I See: A Message from the Assistant Director of the FBI's Training Division
Does the FBI Look Different? It Sure Does
The physical and intellectual standards required to be an FBI special agent are extraordinarily high. And the odds of becoming one are extraordinarily low, given our selectivity. So how best to address recent criticism that unfairly and inaccurately derided the FBI for recruiting and retaining unqualified candidates, allegedly to meet diversity hiring goals?
Here’s what I see as the head of the FBI Training Academy at Quantico, Virginia: I see the men and women who arrive here as new agent trainees after a remarkably arduous application process. I see them study and train; I see them learn and grow; and I see them graduate to become an integral part of the FBI. I see today’s FBI (and its future, walking our hallways), and the quality of our new agents is superb.
Last year, we graduated almost 900 new agents; in 2022, we graduated about 1,000. In those two years, we received a total of more than 48,000 special agent applications. That would place us among the most selective colleges on the planet if we were simply a college. But we are much more than that. We are the professional training center for the world’s preeminent law enforcement and intelligence agency.
Contrary to claims from anonymous critics, every new agent must pass the high fitness standards in place here at the academy. They are tested on— and must pass—a host of other written and oral skills and aptitudes, including knowledge of legal doctrines. They are also tested on—and again, must pass—firearms proficiency and defensive and operational tactics.
It is also instructive to look at the data from our recent academy classes. We had five new agent classes that started in 2023. In those classes, on average, more than 50% of the new agents came from a military or law enforcement background, approximately 48% had advanced degrees, and the average age was 29. These numbers show we continue to attract people who are experienced, smart, and mature.
Has anything changed in our classes and in our training? Sure, and for the better. Standing still would be an enormous mistake and would be a disservice to the public we serve. We must continue to update our training curriculum to face new threats and challenges. We have updated our tactical training facilities to replicate the targets of today, and we have refreshed our physical and defensive tactics training to reflect best practices based on science and research.
Our classes are also more diverse, because diversity—in its many incarnations—makes us better able to meet the challenges the Bureau faces in today’s world. In fact, the last special agent class that graduated from Quantico was almost half women. We also have more people of color and more people from different educational and experiential backgrounds. Diversity does not mean lesser; it means variety, and variety is what we need to operate in so many different places, across so many different populations, to address so many different threats.
Did we lower standards to admit and graduate more women in our most recent class? Absolutely not. If you want to see the physical fitness standards, for instance, that a new agent must meet to graduate from Quantico, you can do so at this link. Think you can do it? Give it a try. This is just a guess, but many of our outside critics will never come close to meeting our standards. Our training is designed to be hard, and properly so. Very few people even make it to Quantico, and once here they must work exceptionally hard to graduate.
Yes, our classes are smaller this year than in years past. But that demonstrates that we are as selective as ever. It would be easy simply to fill larger classes, if simply filling classes was the goal. But because of our strict standards, we only take the best—not the most. Further, we are competing for qualified applicants against private sector salaries in a work from home world. Yet, we continue to enroll extraordinary candidates who choose country over corporation and mission over money.
I have also heard our critics complain that our new special agents refuse to put in the long hours required to do this job well. Again, from my own experience, that is nonsense. Last year, when I led the FBI’s Philadelphia Division, I saw new agents, working alongside more senior personnel, run a significant counterterrorism investigation that resulted in the arrest of a 17-year-old who had been communicating with a terrorist group and purchased the components of an improvised explosive device. Did these new agents work nights and weekends? Yes. Did they complain about the hours? Not once. Did they protect the public from a potentially catastrophic attack? Absolutely. And I know that sort of determination and dedication is reflected every day in our work across the country and around the world.
Some people—including some within our organization—find change unsettling. But the mere fact that something is different than when they graduated from Quantico does not make those changes bad or wrong. Does the FBI look different than we did in 1970? We sure do. In fact, women were not even allowed to be special agents in 1970. Changing with the times is smart and necessary.
But some things have not changed, and never will—including the high quality of the men and women who raise their hands and take the oath to do difficult and dangerous work as FBI special agents.
FBI Training Division