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GOVERNMENTAL ACCOUNTING CAREER OPPORTUNITIES


Accountants have numerous career options. Many government departments and agencies hire accountants, both for their own purposes (e.g., budgeting and financial reporting) and for use in the function of the agency (e.g., audits of constituents, taxpayers). This article provides a list of internet web home pages for federal departments and agencies (See Table 1) and provides more detailed information about selected federal entities.
Requirements for federal accounting positions vary across agencies. Most accounting positions in the federal government require a college degree. Most government agencies require successful completion of an entrance examination and an interview. Some government units or positions require the ability and willingness of the employee to move on a frequent basis, and there may the element of danger in some positions (e.g., Treasury Enforcement Agent) and localities. The more sensitive law enforcement positions (e.g., FBI or IRS special Agent) also require background checks, physical examinations, and drug testing.

The government-sponsored Outstanding Scholar Program allows applicants priority in applications and starts new hires at a higher grade. To be recognized as an Outstanding Scholar requires a 3.45 overall grade point average (on a 4 point scale) or graduation in the top 10 percent of the graduating class of an accredited college.
Some government units offer internship opportunities. Internships are a dynamic way for students to determine if the work would be interesting for them, for students to “get their foot in the door,” and for government agencies to examine the work of selected students. Some of these internships pay and some do not. Often students can get course credit for the internship. These agencies may offer interns full-time permanent positions once the interns complete their internships, but these permanent positions are subject to monetary constraints and job performance.

The following is more detailed information about accounting careers with several federal agencies or departments that regularly hire accountants.

Department of the Treasury
This federal department has 13 divisions dealing with economic and tax policy. Each of these divisions hires accountants, with several divisions hiring many accountants. This section discusses two such positions as examples.

An Assistant Examiner in the Office of Thrift Supervision conducts on-site examinations of thrift institutions (per internet description). These examinations include evaluating the practices and financial soundness of the institution, evaluating management, reviewing records, and documenting and reporting findings. The Treasury hires Assistant Examiners from the Outstanding Scholars Program. There are opportunities for Assistant Examiners in all regions of the country.

The Treasury hires Treasury Enforcement Agents (TEAs) for four bureaus within the Department: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Customs Services, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Secret Service. A TEA in any of these bureaus will need to do investigative and surveillance work and may carry a weapon. The travel requirements across these four bureaus will be similar as well. (Work in the Customs Service will probably require less travel, but postings in other countries are possible.) Although the Treasury does not specifically hire TEAs from the Outstanding Scholars Program, the qualifications are similar to the Outstanding Scholars Program. Applicants must meet education and experience requirements, be U.S. citizens between 23 and 37 years of age (unless they have previous government employment), pass written and oral examinations, pass drug and physical examinations, and successfully pass a background check. The Treasury performs background checks on all prospective TEAs to determine suitability for employment.

Internal Revenue Service
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an agency of the Department of the Treasury, hires many accountants and may be the most common government agency students think of when considering government accounting positions.

Several career opportunities in the IRS require extensive accounting skills, including Internal Auditor, Revenue Agent, and Special Agent. An Internal Auditor, as the name implies, audits and monitors the internal records of the IRS to ensure safeguarding of the agency’s assets and compliance with federal laws. Revenue Agents examine and audit the financial records of corporate and individual taxpayers, helping to ensure that these taxpayers pay the appropriate taxes and comply with federal laws. A Special Agent of the IRS learns to do investigative and surveillance work and may carry a weapon. All of these jobs require some accounting knowledge and a degree in accounting provides a choice of positions. Several other career opportunities in the IRS list taxation as a good background: Tax Auditor, Revenue Officer, and Taxpayer Service Specialist.

The IRS has offices across the country. Employees have tremendous mobility, being able to move to any other state and find an office in the largest city of that state. The IRS sometimes asks its employees to travel, with Revenue Agents and Special Agents traveling frequently.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation
Although not a requirement for the stereotypical FBI Special Agent, an accounting degree is one of the preferred credentials for applicants to the Bureau. The modern FBI agent investigates many crimes requiring an accountant's knowledge for successful pursuit. Among these crimes are organized crime, white-collar crime, public corruption, financial crime, fraud, and bribery. The qualifications to become an agent, both scholastic and physical, are quite rigorous. FBI Special Agents are law enforcement officers and therefore must travel to where their expertise is needed and must carry firearms on duty. However, after Special Agent trainees attend a 15-week session of intensive training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, these new agents can request assignment at any of the numerous field offices throughout the United States. For more information on becoming a Special Agent, prospective applicants should inquire at the nearest FBI field office and explore the FBI’s web page.

The General Accounting Office
The General Accounting Office (GAO) hires many accountants, including Evaluators and Financial Auditors. Financial Auditors perform work similar to public accountants working as auditors (e.g., evaluating internal controls, testing information in financial statements, and analyzing financial data). In addition, they test for compliance with federal laws and regulations. Both of these career opportunities require scholastic credentials similar to the requirements of the Outstanding Scholars Program. The GAO requires, on average, at least 80 hours of continuing professional education every two years for its employees. This is the same requirement many states impose on CPAs.

The GAO has offices located in major cities across the country, but most (about three fourths) of GAO employees work at the national office in Washington, D.C. Interested students can keep current on GAO position announcements using the GAO’s web page.

Department of the Air Force
While the agencies listed previously are the most obvious government units interested in hiring accountants, numerous other government agencies also hire many accountants. A good example is the Department of the Air Force.

Each of the Armed Forces (Visit the web page of the Air Force or of another of the Armed Forces for more information) requires accountants for internal functions. Accountants for the Air Force perform the same or similar functions as accountants in private industry. For example, the Air Force Audit Agency auditors evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, determine if the Air Force is properly implementing federal law, and analyze the results of financial implementations. Air Force Cost Accountants monitor numerous operations, including pay, facility operations, and employee benefits. These Cost Accountants also develop policies and procedures related to interagency communications and compliance with federal laws.


STATE AGENCIES
In addition to considering federal accounting positions, students might consider positions with state governments. While each state government has different structure and hence different departments, all states must have agencies and employees who perform similar functions across states. Individuals should check with their states to determine which agencies of the state hire accountants. This article examines agencies of the State of Indiana (which should be representative of other states) that hire accountants.

Department of Revenue
Every state collects some form of taxes and therefore needs a government agency to oversee and audit this procedure. The Indiana Department of Revenue has several divisions dealing with taxation. The largest segment of the Department, the Audit Division, has 300 employees. The mission statement of the Audit Division is to promote voluntary compliance among taxpayers in all tax and fee areas through quality examination. While most of Indiana’s auditors live in Indiana, many live outside the state, mainly in large cities. These auditors will audit the records of major corporations incorporated in those cities and conducting business in Indiana. This is a common practice with all states.

The daily activities of Indiana auditors focus on examining financial records of corporate taxpayers to ensure these taxpayers paid the appropriate Indiana taxes. Other divisions of the Indiana Department of Revenue also work with the Audit Division. For example, it is the duty of the Collections Division to collect taxes due to the state and the Compliance Division ensures that all taxpayers comply with the tax laws of the state of Indiana.
Some employees work for a state or local agency only during the tax season. For example, the Indiana Department of Revenue employs about 1,000 people year-round and an additional 200 during the tax season.
Applicants for positions with the Audit Division must apply separately for each position by completing an application form (a resume alone will not suffice). Applicants must also successfully complete an examination, which is given twice per year.

State Board of Accounts
The vision of the Indiana State Board of Accounts is to impart to the citizens of Indiana complete confidence in the integrity and financial accountability of state and local governments; to ensure that these institutions are operating efficiently in compliance with applicable statutes. The State Board of Accounts audits all state and local government entities, including conducting compliance and financial audits. The Board also audits not-for-profit entities receiving State funding. The entities audited by the Board include all state schools, license branches, state colleges and universities, towns, cities, and counties. The Board also develops accounting reporting forms and guidelines and provides training to state employees. According to a 1996 report activity audits of cities, libraries, schools, and utilities required a majority of the total audit time of the Board.

The Board follows the same audit procedures for financial audits as is used in the public accounting profession. The Board also conducts investigatory audits to identify fraud and noncompliance of the audited entity with state laws and regulations. New hires will start as team members until they become comfortable with their responsibilities. They will then be required to solve problems, answer questions, and give advice.
To join the Board you must successfully complete the Board’s entrance examination offered twice per year, in April and November. The Board strongly encourages possession of a college degree in accounting or business as appropriate background for employment. It encourages employees to pursue the Certified Public Accountant designation, allowing time to take the examination and providing immediate recognition of successful exam completion with an increase in salary.

Department of Financial Institutions
The Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) has the responsibility for monitoring all financial institutions incorporated in the state of Indiana. These institutions include banks, savings and loans, and credit unions. DFI strives to protect the interests of borrowers, owners, customers, and depositors through examination and supervision. An accounting background is a must to work for DFI.

Other Government Agencies
Each county and city government also must employ accountants. Some of these entities hire many accountants. Many jurisdictions require financial and budgetary accountants (The City of New York budget, for example, is larger than the budgets for many states.) and also need accountants to monitor reporting of taxpayers (e.g., for income, property, or sales tax collection purposes). Some jurisdictions have internet home pages which will readily provide information about position announcements or about the entity itself. For example, the City of New York’s award-winning home page (http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/) provides much information about the City and its employees.

Certification
Professional certification is helpful for career advancement and pay raises in any of the above entities. These certifications include Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, Certified in Financial Management, Certified Internal Auditor, and Certified Fraud Examiner, among others. In addition, students should consider a relatively new certification offered by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA), entitled Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM), aimed specifically for government accountants.

CONCLUSION
While federal and state government units have similar requirements and provide similar benefits to employees, there are wide differences in position descriptions and what new employees might expect to encounter. We have only scratched the surface of job opportunities in the government with accounting knowledge. To learn more about the government unit of most interest to you a good starting point is the internet web page cited in Table 1. From this starting point students can access much information. Happy exploration.

World Wide Web Sites of Federal Agencies


Congress

 
General Accounting Office http://www.gao.gov
House of Representatives http://www.house.gov
Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov
Senate http://www.senate.gov
White House
 
General Information http://www.whitehouse.gov
Departments  
Agriculture http://www.usda.gov
Commerce http://www.doc.gov
Defense http://www.dtic.mil/defenselink
Air Force http://www.af.mil
Army http://www.army.mil
Marine Corps http://www.usmc.mil
Navy http://www.navy.mil
Education http://www.ed.gov
Energy http://www.doe.gov
Health and Human Services http://www.dhhs.gov
Housing and Urban Development http://www.hud.gov
Interior http://www.doi.gov
Justice http://www.usdoj.gov
Labor http://www.dol.gov
State http://www.state.gov
Transportation http://www.dot.gov
Treasury http://www.ustreas.gov
Veterans Affairs http://www.va.gov
Agencies
 
Agency for International Development http://www.info.usaid.gov
Census Bureau http://www.census.gov
Central Intelligence Agency http://www.odci.gov/cia
Consumer Product Safety Commission http://www.cpsc.gov
Corporation for Public Broadcasting http://www.cpb.gov
Drug Enforcement Administration http://usdoj.gov/dea/deahome.htm
Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov
Export-Import Bank http://www.exim.gov
Federal Aviation Administration http://www.faa.gov
Federal Bureau of Investigation http://www.fbi.gov
Federal Communications Commission http://www.fcc.gov
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation http://www.fdic.gov
Federal Election Commission http://www.fec.gov
Fed. Emergency Management Agency http://www.fema.gov
Fed. Energy Regulatory Commission http://www.fedworld.gov/ferc/ferc.html
Federal Reserve System http://www.bog.frb.fed.us
Federal Trade Commission http://www.ftc.gov
Food and Drug Administration http://www.fda.gov
General Services Administration http://www.gsa.gov
Government Printing Office http://www.gpo.gov
Internal Revenue Service http://www.irs.ustreas.gov
National Aeronautics and Space Admin http://www.nasa.gov
National Archives and Records Admin http://www.nara.gov
National Institute of Standards and Tech http://www.nist.gov
National Institutes of Health http://www.nih.gov
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin http://www.noaa.gov
National Park Service http://www.nps.gov
National Performance Review http://www.npr.gov
National Railroad Passenger Corp (Amtrak) http://www.amtrak.com
National Science Foundation http://www.nsf.gov
National Technical Information Services http://www.fedworld.gov
National Transportation Safety Board http://www.ntsb.gov
Nuclear Regulatory Commission http://www.nrc.gov
Occupational Safety & Health Admin http://www.osha.gov
Patent and Trademark Office http://www.uspto.gov
Peace Corps http://www.peacecorps.gov
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation http://www.pbgc.gov
Securities and Exchange Commission http://www.sec.gov
Small Business Administration http://www.sba.gov
Smithsonian Institute http://www.si.edu
Social Security Administration http://www.ssa.gov
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service http://www.fws.gov
U.S. Geological Survey http://www.usgs.gov
U.S. Information Agency http://www.usia.gov
U.S. International Trade Commission http://www.usitc.gov
U.S. Postal Service http://www.usps.gov


Douglas K. Barney
Assistant Professor of Accountancy
School of Business and Economics
Indiana University Southeast
4201 Grant Line Road
New Albany, IN 47150

Chris Bjornson
Assistant Professor of Accountancy
School of Business and Economics
Indiana University Southeast
4201 Grant Line Road
New Albany, IN 47150

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