Government Accounting

An Overview of Government Accounting

Just as accountants in the private sector track, analyze and report financial information for individuals, businesses and nonprofits, accountants in the public sector perform similar duties for a range of public service agencies. Government accounting is essential for transparency and efficiency. As public servants, these individuals manage budgets, expenses and revenues at the federal, state, county and city levels for organizations such as the military, law enforcement and public schools.

Government jobs tend to follow a uniform hiring process with standardized position requirements and pay scales, especially at the federal level. This can result in a rigid, multi-step application and promotion process, but usually provides clearly defined expectations and job descriptions. Increased job security is a commonly cited benefit of public vs. private employment; however, government agencies also experience economic changes and can undergo pay and hiring freezes, as well as downsizing.

Government Accounting Careers

Accounting knowledge and skills are required in many government roles; typical accounting tasks help each sector meet its public service mission. You’ll find related positions in different types of offices and at all levels of government.

There are several major offices that employ government accountants to provide financial oversight; study and analyze fiscal data; monitor transactions and procedures; and prepare detailed reports for internal and public consumption, including:

The U.S. Department of Defense, and each branch of the armed forces, also relies on accounting and finance professionals for a wide range of functions from budgeting and auditing to payroll and cost analysis.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury, however, is the primary federal employer of accountants, as they are responsible for managing issues of financial security, including work related to: federal finances, currency, national banking institutions and tax collection. Career opportunities are available for accountants, economists and financial analysts at the headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at bureaus located throughout the country. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is just one of these bureaus, which employs accountants, auditors and agents.

Government accountants can also be found in a variety of local and state agencies where they manage budgets, track revenues, audit financial processes, establish financial policies and ensure compliance with tax and reporting requirements. This work is a critical function of State Departments of Revenue, as well as local county and city government offices.

The following position profiles highlight accounting functions at several of the major government departments.

Specializations

Treasury Enforcement Agent

The U.S. Department of Treasury relies on enforcement agents to investigate crimes that involve financial systems, tax laws, credit card fraud, identity theft and related cases. Professionals in these positions conduct investigations, collect evidence and analyze complex financial records. In some cases, enforcement agents may be required to present evidence in court. Similar job titles include criminal investigator and IRS special agent. Some positions require successful completion of the Treasury Enforcement Agent Examination.

  • Responsibilities
  • Job Stats
  • Education and Experience Requirements
  • Additional Qualifications Recommended

Responsibilities

  • Conduct investigations that include data analysis, interviews and other intelligence gathering techniques
  • Apply laws and regulations to individual cases and make recommendations
  • Prepare detailed written reports
  • Present evidence in court

Job Stats

Education and Experience Requirements

  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree in any field of study is required. IRS special agents should have completed at least 15 credit hours in accounting and nine additional hours in a related subject such as economics, business law or finance.
  • Three years of relevant experience is the typical requirement for entering an enforcement agent position at the GS-5 level.

Additional Qualifications Recommended

  • CPA: Earning a Certified Public Accountant license includes an exam and the documentation of education and prior experience. This credential helps applicants demonstrate required experience for entering enforcement agent positions.

IRS Auditors

These accounting professionals work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to review, audit and collect federal taxes and levies owed by individuals and businesses. Auditors often manage multiple cases and work to educate and assist taxpayers with the auditing process. Similar responsibilities are found in related positions within the IRS and other government agencies under the job titles of accountant, case advocate and financial analyst.

  • Responsibilities
  • Job Stats
  • Education and Experience Requirements
  • Additional Qualifications Recommended

Responsibilities

  • Evaluate tax return documents for accuracy and compliance with current laws and regulations
  • Gather and analyze financial data and recommend case actions
  • Communicate directly with individual taxpayers and organizations to convey audit results
  • Maintain detailed records on each audit case, often using specialized software systems
  • Maintain current knowledge of changing tax codes

Job Stats

Education and Experience Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree in accounting, economics, business or a related field is required.
  • At least one year of full-time experience is preferred in areas such as tax analysis, tax compliance, auditing and bookkeeping.

Additional Qualifications Recommended

  • CGAP: The Certified Government Auditing Professional is offered through the Institute of Internal Auditors as an option for documenting knowledge and skills related to auditing work in the public sector.

Accountants, Analysts and Auditors

Accountants, budget analysts and auditors provide valuable services not only in private companies and nonprofits, but also in government offices at the federal, state and local level. Foundational accounting knowledge and skills are applicable to all sectors of employment, and you will find they are in demand in a wide range of work settings.

  • Responsibilities
  • Job Stats
  • Education and Experience Requirements
  • Additional Qualifications Recommended

Responsibilities

  • Organize and maintain financial documents, reports and data
  • Contribute to the budget development process
  • Monitor costs and expenses, and make recommendations for resource allocation
  • Conduct analysis of data to identify trends and inform financial decisions
  • Review accounting records to evaluate accuracy and compliance with regulations
  • Create and distribute financial reports

Job Stats

Education and Experience Requirements

  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting or a related field is preferred, although for some government positions a bachelor’s degree in any field is acceptable.
  • Entry-level government positions usually require one to three years of related experience. Students can work toward this requirement through internships and other practical experience opportunities.

Additional Qualifications Recommended

  • CPA: Earning a Certified Public Accountant license includes an exam and the documentation of education and prior experience. Some government agencies list CPA licensure in their job announcements, and, in others, it can be a hiring advantage that demonstrates existing skills.
  • CGAP: While not usually required, the Certified Government Auditing Professional certification is another option for documenting knowledge and skills related to public sector work.