What Does a Government Accountant Do?
Government accountants review financial documentation for the government and its taxpayers. The work they do ranges from the auditing of tax accounts to confirm their information’s accuracy and completeness to investigating various government agencies’ financial accounts for signs of fraudulent activity or other types of budget-related malfeasance. Within these agencies, government accountants are an integral part of the budget and financial declaration process.
Agencies depend on their accountants as they plan their activities over a given fiscal year, quarter or other specified financial period. Legislators who are responsible for allocating funds also depend on agency reports. Many of these reports are also open to members of the public who are interested to know how the government spends its money, although some are classified because they could contain information pertaining to national security.
Day-to-Day Activities, Functions and Duties
Individual government agencies employ accountants to prepare financial statements and handle payroll duties, among other things. Legislators and agencies can also request audits. An audit involves evaluating all of an agency’s financial information—bank statements, accounting records and so forth. Government accountants who work for certain agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit private businesses and individuals to ensure their compliance with federal income taxation law and other government regulations at the national, state and local levels.
Education and Career Outlook
Becoming a government accountant will require at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Many government accountants also have master’s degrees in accounting, taxation, finance, business administration (MBA) or another subject that is closely related to accounting and finance. Some employers have gone so far as to require an MBA with a concentration in accounting, a master of science in accounting or a master of science in taxation. According to the Department of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average annual salary for auditors and accountants is $61,690. Even within a single industry such as government, accountants’ salaries can vary considerably based on work experience, geographic location, areas of specialization, cost of living and other job-specific considerations. Demand for accountants and auditors in both the public and private sectors is projected to increase through at least 2020, making accounting a wise career choice.
As a government accountant or auditor, you will work in the public sector to maintain and examine government agencies’ records. You will also audit individuals and private businesses when the need to do so arises (i.e., when it appears that they have failed to comply with any applicable laws, rules or regulations in filing or disclosing their financial information). Individuals who wish to pursue a career in government accounting should have an aptitude for math. They should also be able to interpret, compare and analyze facts and figures quickly. Finally, they must possess excellent written and verbal communication skills. Students who have earned a bachelor of science in accounting will be eligible to fill available accounting positions at the federal, state and local levels. In addition to traditional government roles, government accountants also have the option of working with government-affiliated companies and corporations.