DEA Forensic Chemist Careers

The Drug Enforcement Administration relies on its forensic chemists to provide scientific services related to compound analysis, evidence processing, and fingerprint recovery.  These scientists are expected to possess a breadth of knowledge that allows expeditious analysis of unidentified substances so that they may be used to detect new narcotics flowing into U.S. cities, provide incriminatory evidence for legal proceedings and assist in investigations.

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DEA forensic chemists perform critical services that save lives.  They analyze new compounds in order to determine the processes and materials that are used to manufacture them, as well as their effects on the physiology of users.  While narcotics traffickers are racing to produce more powerful or undetectable drugs, DEA chemists strive to produce detection methods and treatment systems that will minimize dissemination.

DEA Forensic Chemist Job Description

Forensic chemist jobs in the DEA involve performing the following duties:

  • Determine the identity of an unknown substance
  • Conduct tests to measure concentrations of controlled substances
  • Analyze compounds to determine if they match manufacturer specifications
  • Produce strategic recommendations about materials and equipment used to produce new narcotics
  • Retrieve, analyze and compare fingerprints from a crime scene
  • Write laboratory précis

How to Become a DEA Forensic Chemist

Education is the most important factor in becoming a DEA forensic chemist.  Job applicants are expected to have completed a four-year degree program in physical or life sciences or engineering with at least 30 semester hours of course work in chemistry along with studies in integral and differential calculus.  Strong candidates should also have at least semester hours in physics.

Some candidates may be able to substitute some educational requirements with strong professional experience that includes:

  • Writing laboratory reports
  • Using chemical tests and instrumentation to analyze substances
  • Conducting calculations to determine the concentration of a substance

Applicants should initiate the application process by finding a job posting on and follow the link to the Office of Personnel Management.  A preliminary questionnaire must be completed regarding basic qualifications.

If the candidate meets the basic requirements, they will be asked to take a written exam that will assess basic scientific and mathematical skills.   Candidates who pass the exam will be investigated for a security clearance, interviewed by agency personnel and medically and psychologically evaluated.  Candidates may also be asked to submit to a polygraph examination.

Newly hired chemists will receive training through the three week Forensic Training program held at the DEA Training Academy. These introductory courses will include:

  • Evidence processing
  • Laboratory operations,
  • Hazardous waste disposal
  • Pharmacology
  • Law
  • Fingerprint analysis
  • Regulated pharmaceuticals

DEA Forensic Chemist Salary

The DEA places a premium on the skills of highly qualified chemists and compensates them handsomely.  In a recent job posting, an entering forensic chemist could expect a salary commensurate with a GS-11 pay grade or $62,909.00 to $81,779.00 in annual salary. These careers have a promotion potential up to GS-13, which has an annual salary between $71,674 and $93,175. This amount may be adjusted for cost of living, availability and hazards.

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