According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), government accountants work in local, state and federal agencies combating crimes, auditing systems and managing public funds. Government accountants examine financial records to ensure compliance with established policies and regulations. Most employers require a bachelor’s degree in accounting and certified public accountant (CPA) credential.
Government accountants are experts on policy matters and standard operating procedures for their target agency. They develop key relationships, monitor public budgets, maintain fiscal transparency and build long-term business partnerships. They maintain a working knowledge of current technologies, regulatory changes and industry trends and practices. Some government accountants coordinate and present government sponsored seminars, trade shows and demonstrations. Others perform on-site inspectors or digital audits of vast amounts of financial data.
Government accountants must be familiar with accounting information management systems and the Generally Accepted Government Accounting Standards (GAGAS). They must be familiar with government structures, functions and financial policies. They must be comfortable asking hard questions, investigating sensitive issues and uncovering hidden accounting problems. Government accountants need strong analytical skills in order to understand and translate financial data into meaningful reports. They must be comfortable testifying as expert witnesses in court hearings regarding white collar crime and financial malpractice investigations.
Government accountants who work on the federal level may find employment in the following agencies: the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Department of Defense (DOD), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), General Services Administration (GSA), Department of the Treasury (DOT), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Most of these organizations perform audits of financial statements, review government agencies’ financial policies and investigate white-collar crimes.
Government accountants who work on the state level are usually employed by the state’s Internal Revenue Service. They perform tax audits and compliance investigations of local and state government entities. Others manage budgets to ensure that fiscal policies are met or conduct local white-collar crime investigations. Government accountants who work on the local level usually work for the city controller’s office reviewing accounting practices, preparing financial reports and interpreting accounting policies.
Most four-year degrees offer courses in government accounting or graduate certificates, but the best option is a master’s degree in government accountancy. These programs introduce advanced topics in governmental accounting that students learn through doing projects or research. For example, applied public finance explores the roles that public treasurers, business administrators and other public officials play in financial operations. Topics range from fiscal impact analyses to demographic projections to tax increment reports. Federal financial management classes survey the stages of budget formulations, approval processes and performance management.
Governmental auditing coursework teaches the analysis of financial management systems to local, state and federal government units. Students are introduced to the principles of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) and the Government Auditing Standards of the General Accounting Office (GAO). Classes on the fundamentals of government budgeting systems provide conceptual frameworks to understand the policies and processes used by administrative units. Public survey auditing trains students about financial analysis, pension fund investing and fiscal policy making.
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Government accountants are financial professionals who verify and maintain fiscal transparency and accuracy for government units.