What is a Government Agent?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A government agent is someone who represents the interests of a government. While many people associate government agents specifically with law enforcement, they can actually work in a wide variety of capacities. To be a government agent, someone usually needs to be a citizen of the government he or she works for, and be able to pass a background and character test, because he or she represents the government at all times and is expected to adhere to a very high standard of conduct.

Diplomats are government agents who represent the United States around the globe.
Diplomats are government agents who represent the United States around the globe.

In a law enforcement capacity, a government agent can act in the interests of the government to investigate, prosecute, and prevent crimes which are believed to be harmful to the government. Government agents also enforce standards and codes, such as agents who work for government health services, environmental agencies, and so forth. In addition to enforcing standards set by the government, government agents can be be involved in the formulation of new policy. Many government agents work as examiners to determine whether or not citizens are complying with the law, whether they are inspecting tax records or visiting factories to test emissions.

Many government agents may be required to travel abroad on a diplomatic passport.
Many government agents may be required to travel abroad on a diplomatic passport.

Diplomacy is also conducted by government agents, although they may not necessarily be referred to as agents. These highly trained agents negotiate on behalf of the government in international disputes, promote cooperation with other nations, and assist citizens of the government while they are abroad. Diplomats can avert wars, negotiate trade deals, and work as neutral parties to help achieve a treaty or agreement between two other nations. Specialized government agents gather intelligence which may be useful or relevant to national security, both at home and abroad.

A government agent may also represent other government employees. For example, employees of certain agencies can contact a government travel agent when they need to travel for the government, with the agent making travel arrangements on behalf of those employees. Agents can also specialize in tasks like providing financial advice and assistance to government workers, helping government workers make retirement plans, and representing government employees in court.

Many governments offer certain protections and rights to their agents which may not be available to average citizens. For example, refusing an inspection by a government agent can be grounds for legal penalties, and assaulting a government agent is usually treated as a more serious crime than assaulting a civilian. Government agents often enjoy expanded powers which they are expected to use professionally and responsibly, and lapses in behavior may be severely penalized.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


A government agent is a representative or official of a government or administrative department of a government.


@matthewc23 - I am not one-hundred percent sure on all the expanded powers federal government agents have over local and state law enforcement but I can list a few. Some expanded powers may include more accessible access to personal and governmental records in an investigation as well as simply more access to information as well as means to which they can solve a case.

If someone is a federal government agent they are seen as having more jurisdiction and this is probably the biggest expanded power that the federal government agent has and encompasses many of their expanded powers. There are probably many more but I cannot think of them off hand.


I have always wondered what types of expanded powers certain government agents have. There are many different types of government agents that are involved with law enforcement and I wonder exactly what kinds of powers they may have that a policeman would not have.

I understand that a federal matter is more important than a state or local matter but beyond having jurisdiction on the matter at hand what expanded powers do government agents have beyond those of state and local law enforcement?


@kentuckycat - You are absolutely correct. I have heard numerous stories about government employees and government agents being let go from their jobs due to poor performance.

People with the perception that having a government job and being set with it for a long time need to realize that a government job is just like any other job and that some people, usually those with seniority or know someone in a high position, may get away with not performing certain duties of their job correctly or at all.

The government takes performance from employees very seriously and have little tolerance towards being a bad worker. However, most jobs are like that and there will always be some people that will get away with what they can. For the most part a government job is an important position and they want a good qualified worker to have it.


I have heard of the government having absolutely no tolerance for lackadaisical performance of their duties. The common perception of those who have government jobs is that they are assured of keeping them, get paid amazingly well, and that they are appointed there, despite proper experience. Although there are always instances of this happening, most of the time the government takes the performance of their employees very seriously and do not tolerate laziness or poor performance with their employees.

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