Transcript of Von Holt, Part 1
Becoming a Secret Service Agent
Note: Transcripts have been edited for readability and are not word-for-word reflections of the audio sections.
Mark "The Red" Harlan:Hi, I'm Mark Harlan and this is Issue 2 of Geek Radio. Today is April 8, 1999, and I am in the office of Special Agent Chris Von Holt from the Secret Service. We're going to talk about Secret Service Agents, what they do, and how they get where they are. So let's start straight off: What do you have to do to actually be a Secret Service Agent?
Chris Von Holt:Well, it's a civil service job, many of our people have advanced degrees, many have had former law enforcement experience, military experience. We've got a real eclectic group, just about any kind of background you can think of. It's a really great group of people, to be honest. It's probably the one asset we have as an agency is our personnel. But again, it's just a civil service job. You've got to be 21 years old, you've got to have at least a 4 year degree, and again, most of our people have advanced degrees. You've got to be in decent physical condition/medical condition and your eye sight has to be good. You have to have at least 20/60 vision in either eye, correctable to 20/20. That's really it. The stated criteria is not that stringent, but the hiring process is.
RED:Uh huh. Is there a maximum age on what you can be to apply?
CVH:Yeah, 35 is the maximum. That's just because you have to put a certain amount of years in the retirement system and also because it's a strenuous job. It's tough being out there ... you know, you don't want to be 60 years old and chasing down the bad guys or running next to the limo like you see on TV.
RED:Is there a physical requirement as part of the exam as well?
CVH:There's a physical fitness test and there's also a medical test. The physical fitness test is a mile and a half run, the number of pull-ups, sit-ups and push-ups you can do in a minute. Then they take a body fat composition, blood pressure and just a general observation of overall impression of your physical ability. The medical portion is just a comprehensive medical exam.
RED:And I assume that the people working at the Secret Service, who are not Agents, don't have to go through the same types of tests. In other words, you don't have to run a mile and a half to be the mail clerk.
RED:When they hire people into the Secret Service, do they prefer someone that has a background of some type, or a history outside of government service? Someone who has done something else before they join the Secret Service?
CVH:Most of the people have done some other things before taking this job. Again, most of the people either have a law enforcement background or a military background or a business background that is suitable to the job.
Right now we're looking for people that are skilled in computers. For our financial crimes investigations -- whether it's specific investigations regarding computer crime, or general knowledge of how computers work and how the banking process works -- computer knowledge is really advantageous. So they're always looking for a diverse group of people. A diverse group physically, ethnically, racially ... We're always looking to expand our group in all those ways. And they really have a very stringent screening out process during the background investigation, so we're always looking for people that are top-notch in all categories.
RED:Let's talk more about that, the screening process specifically: how does that work? How do they go about selecting who's there? What kinds of tests do they have to go through? That type of thing.
CVH:If you were to walk in today to apply, you'd have to fill out the necessary paperwork, of course, which is the usual government forms. Then you would have an initial interview with either the Special Agent in Charge, or one of the other supervisors, such as myself. That would last an hour -- maybe an hour and a half -- just kind of a general background conversation about who you are and what you do, what you've done previously, what you expect this job to be. I give you my version of what the job's all about, then if I felt you were someone we'd be interested in, you'd come back in eventually for the TEA (Treasury Enforcement Agent) exam. It's basically a civil service exam. It's fairly difficult actually -- most people don't pass it.
If you do pass that, you come back for a panel interview among three of the senior agents, that's 20 set questions with as many follow-up questions as they deem necessary, to see how you react to certain situations and what your thought processes are regarding various situations you might run into. If you score high enough on that, where the three agents think you'd be a good applicant, you go on from there. There's another couple of interviews, eventually you'll wind up taking a polygraph test, a urinalysis, a medical exam.
Then there's a home interview, which is very important, where you sit down with the agent applicant's spouse, and make sure that he or she knows what the job is all about. This is a difficult job, but it's probably more difficult on the spouses. The agents are away from home quite often, they work a lot of nights, a lot of weekends, and there's a fair amount of stress on the job. So you really have to make sure that the spouse is on board with all that; if he or she isn't, the applicant is going to have a horrible time and just won't make it.
That's pretty much it. You do the background investigation, which is very thorough. We've had police officers, people from other agencies, that have gone through their backgrounds and have passed there, they've gotten those jobs. Then in the Secret Service check we've found things in their backgrounds and they have not passed.
RED:Let's go back to the TEA exam. What is it about that exam that makes it difficult to pass? I mean are they asking you questions like ... What album did KISS quit wearing their make-up? Or, here's a chess position against Boris Spassky, show us what you do? Or what?
CVH:No, it's almost like a college entrance exam. English skills, comprehension, some mathematics, reading comprehension. They have you look at a page that's a scene, you turn the page and they ask various questions about that scene. How many people were on the street corner? What type of car was it? Things that are testing your observational abilities. Which, obviously, is a good thing to have in law enforcement. It's nothing tricky, it's nothing esoteric, it's just stuff that most people are fairly good at, but we set the level fairly high, where we're only taking the people that are quite good.