For those who are thinking of becoming an accounting professional, entering the public sector could potentially lead to a fulfilling career at the local, state, or federal levels. In this line of work, a government accountant is expected to crunch the numbers and serve as a financial watchdog for the community. Accountants can be found across all industries, more so in government work where a high standard of service has to be maintained at all times.
Accountant Job Responsibilities
Fiscal auditing and monitoring, budgeting, and management of public funds are at the top of every government accountant job description. Government financial systems can be described as a cyclical inflow and outflow of revenue collection, budgeting, and public spending. At the center of these activities is the accountant who has to be armed with the knowledge of government statutes, as well as tax and business codes for both public and private sector operations.
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Accountants in government also contribute to the development of tax and other financial policies. At the state level, they may be involved in evaluating the viability of using public funds for certain community infrastructure projects.
Government accountants work with public sector groups and regulatory agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S, Government Accountability Office. As part of these regulatory bodies, they may be assigned to investigate or audit the books of different government agencies to ensure statutory compliance. Since the IRS also oversees the fiscal standards of private businesses, accountants may be assigned to investigate and review documents and statements for potential incidents of financial fraud or white-collar crime.
With the introduction of new accounting programs and computing apps, the government accountant job description has expanded to keep up with the times. Aside from the core skills, accountants are also expected to be more tech-savvy to catch up with the times.
Accountant Salary Expectations
Accountants working in the public sector serve as tax agents and compliance officers, federal inspectors, budget managers, and auditors. Working in the different government agencies could present varying challenges and responsibilities.
Salary and occupational data differ per state. The top states for employment numbers and salaries include California, Texas, and New York. Information from the latest BLS Occupational Handbook shows that California pays an hourly mean wage of around $39.72 while accountants in New York and New Jersey receive an average of $42 to nearly $45 an hour. The annual mean wage for these top three states ranges from around $82,620 to $93,280. These three also rank high in terms of location quotient, which means there are more accounting and related jobs in the state compared to other areas.
Education and Certification Requirements
A degree in accounting, finance, or a related discipline from a college or university provides a foundation for a government accountant job. Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a crucial step to securing a federal or state accountant job. This entails passing the government accountant exam as well as complying with jurisdiction requirements set by the state accountancy board. Regulations often evolve so maintaining state licensure may require participation in professional development and credited training activities on a regular basis.
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The Certified Fraud Examiner or CFE test is another essential government accountant exam. Prior to entering government service, accountants are also expected to get credentialed as a CFE. During the credentialing process, the applicant is assessed based on their education, experience, and other criteria. Before taking the CFE exam, an applicant would have to meet certain professional requirements, including some level of fraud detection and handling experience. Membership with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) is also a must at the time of application.