When you think of accountants, you might think of tax preparers, staff accountants at the “Big 4” public accounting firms or cost accountants working to save high-powered businesses some cash. One type of employer that might not come to mind is the government. Yet eight percent of all accountants and auditors in the United States – about 112,000 professionals – work for the government, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The Role of Government Accountants
At the federal, state and local levels, accountants perform a variety of tasks related to financial reporting. In some capacities, they maintain, inspect and audit the financial records and operations of government agencies. Other roles require accountants and auditors to review the financial statements of citizens and private businesses to check for accuracy of tax payments and compliance with government regulations.
There are many entities within the United States federal government where accountants are in high demand. These entities range from the expected, like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the U.S. Department of Treasury, to the surprising, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
At every level of government, accountants play an important part in making sure that the money allotted for government agencies is received and used appropriately, the BLS reported.
Federal Jobs in Taxes and Treasury
Accounting, economist and financial analyst roles are some of the more than 250 types of jobs that exist within the Department of Treasury. Many of the accountants who work for the Department of Treasury work within the IRS, which identifies itself as “one of the largest single employers of professional accountants.” The IRS employs accounting professionals in a number of different positions. They develop, use and examine accounting systems infrastructure. Some IRS accounting professionals come up with accounting standards and policies. Of course, financial reporting – the core of the accounting occupation – is another job duty for IRS accountants, who analyze data and financial reports or conduct IRS audits of taxpayers’ accounts. Some accountants working for the IRS even have job duties similar to corporate accountants, with responsibilities such as advising and assisting management.
Recent graduates of accounting degree programs can start with the IRS in entry-level Internal Revenue Agent positions, while advanced Internal Revenue Agent positions exist for experienced accounting professionals looking to make a career change. More specialized accounting roles within the IRS include Tax Specialist, Tax Compliance Officer and Tax Examiner.
If you want to work for the IRS, you will have to undergo a background investigation and tax verification. Candidates with bilingual skills and veterans who have been dishonorably discharged may be given preference when applying to IRS positions.
Accountants in Law Enforcement and Intelligence
Who says all work in accounting involves crunching numbers in a cubicle? You could put your accounting education to work at federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The FBI is a national security organization that is involved in both law enforcement and intelligence. Among the most popular accounting and financial jobs with the FBI is Forensic Accountant. A Forensic Accountant for the FBI uses accounting skills for investigative purposes, such as identifying instances of fraud and systems used for money laundering. However, it’s not only white-collar crimes that are detected with forensic accounting. If you chose this career path, you could help serve your country by aiding in the investigation of organized crime, cybercrime, public corruption and violent crime as well as assisting in counterintelligence and counterterrorism efforts. Either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree can be sufficient to attain a career as a forensic accountant for the FBI. Preference is given to candidates who have professional certifications such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF).
(Find out more about what degree you need to be an intelligence analyst.)
The FBI also hires accountants and auditors for financial reporting positions that support the Bureau’s assignments. Rather than investigating financial crimes, these accountants and auditors work in a more traditional financial specialist role.
The CIA is an independent agency dedicated to security intelligence. Accounting and auditing jobs with the CIA tend to fall under the category of Enterprise & Support roles. CIA Accountants handle tasks such as preparing and analyzing financial statements and the general ledger, managing payroll processing and tax forms and acting as cost and managerial accountants improving the effectiveness of the CIA’s business operations. You might also work as a Contract Auditor, Inspector General Auditor, Inspector General IT Auditor or Inspector General Financial Auditor.
Other business and finance opportunities within the FBI include Contract Specialist, Financial Operations Specialist, Bank Card Program Manager, Voucher Examiner, Budget Analyst, Forensic Financial Research Specialist and Accounting Analyst.
General Government Roles
With budgets consistently proving to be an important and controversial topic in federal politics, it’s only natural that government entities of all kinds need workers with accounting backgrounds. In accounting roles within any number of government organizations, your job responsibilities may include keeping track of funding, spending, payroll and financial transactions.
One further organization within the federal government where accountants and auditors can find fulfilling employment is the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Financial auditors play an important part in this agency, the primary purpose of which is to oversee audits and investigations of the United States Congress. If you want to work for the federal government in any accounting capacity, it is important to attain the certifications and advanced education that will help you get the job you want as well as to be persistent in your job hunt.
The federal government isn’t the only level of government in which accounting professionals are needed. Approximately 44,830 accountants work for local government entities and 42,100 work for state government entities, excluding schools and hospitals, the BLS reported.
You might be surprised to learn that accountants working for the local government earn a higher median wage ($66,950) than those working for state governments $62,140.
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