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 public service agencies. As public servants, government accountants manage budgets, expenses, and revenues at the federal, state, and local levels for organizations such as the military, law enforcement, and public schools.
Government accounting careers tend to follow uniform hiring processes with standardized position requirements and pay scales — especially at the federal level. These standards can result in a rigid, multi-step application and promotion process but usually provide clearly defined expectations and job descriptions. Job security is a commonly cited benefit of public employment; however, government agencies also undergo pay and hiring freezes, as well as downsizing.
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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. These offices include:
Additionally, the U.S. Department of the Treasury is the primary federal employer of accountants. Career opportunities are available for accountants, economists, and financial analysts at the department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as at bureaus located throughout the country. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is one such bureau and employs accountants, auditors, and agents.
The U.S. Department of Defense and each branch of the armed forces also rely on accounting and finance professionals for functions such as budgeting, auditing, payroll, and cost analysis.
Government accountants can also work in 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 the departments of revenue services for states, as well as for local county and city government offices.
Accountants, Analysts, and Auditors
Accountants, budget analysts, and auditors provide valuable services in government offices at the federal, state, and local levels. These workers may manage financial documents, oversee budgets, and review accounting records for accuracy and compliance.
Government Financial Manager
In general, financial managers work in administrative positions at various companies and organizations, overseeing financial affairs. Government financial managers perform many of the same tasks but work with public funds instead of private money. These professionals may work at the local, state, or federal level.
Treasury Enforcement Agent
The U.S. Department of Treasury relies on enforcement agents to investigate crimes such as credit card fraud and identity theft. These professionals conduct investigations, collect evidence, and analyze complex financial records. In some cases, enforcement agents may need to present evidence in court. Similar job titles include criminal investigator and IRS special agent. Some positions require passing the Treasury Enforcement Agent Examination.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is government accounting a good career?
Government jobs, including accounting, can provide firm job security and benefits. Public sector jobs typically follow a predetermined ladder when it comes to raises and promotions, allowing employees to plan for the future.
How do I get a government accounting job?
Aspiring government accountants can find positions across specialties, including auditing, financial management, and budget analysis. Government employers often accept accountants with a bachelor’s degree, though some may prefer a master’s.
Where can I work as a government accountant?
The government hires auditors at local, state, and federal levels. Top hiring agencies include the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service.
What's the difference between government accounting and public accounting?
On a day-to-day basis, government accounting tasks align closely with public accounting tasks. Government accountants manage financial data relative to schools, military, and other government agencies, while public accountants work for individuals and businesses.