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Government Accounting Jobs: Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a government accountant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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There are a number of job titles for government accounting jobs at the local, state and federal levels, such as budget analysts, tax examiners, auditing clerks and accountants. A bachelor's degree in a field related to accounting is typically needed for government accounting jobs, while some positions require a master's degree and/or a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation.

Essential Information

Government accountants work for federal, state and local governments, examining and auditing financial records to ensure compliance with policies and regulations. Individuals who have an affinity for numbers and are detail-oriented may thrive in this career. A bachelor's degree in accounting and certification as a public accountant may be necessary for some government positions.

At the federal level, accountants review tax information and perform financial investigations on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, among other agencies. At the state level, accountants may perform tax audits or manage budgets to ensure that fiscal policies are met. Locally, the city controller's office may hire accountants to review and prepare financial reports or interpret accounting policies.

Other government accounting jobs available at the local, state and federal levels include auditor, budget analyst, tax examiner, controller and accounting clerk.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in accounting; some positions might require a master's degree
Other Requirements Certified as a Public Accountant (CPA)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 11% (for auditors and accountants); -8% (for accounting and auditing clerks); 3% (for budget analysts); -6% (for tax examiners)*
Average Salary (2015) $64,370 (for auditors and accountants at the local government level); $60,270 (for auditors and accountants at the state government level)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Government Accounting Job Requirements

Education Requirements

Most government accounting jobs require that candidates possess at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field, such as finance or public administration. In lieu of an accounting degree, some agencies may accept a combination of experience and accounting coursework. Some cities also may require that candidates complete a 1-2 year supervised internship program and pass an exam on accounting principles before being eligible for a controller job (www.sfcontroller.org).

Certification

Some government accounting positions require candidates to be certified public accountants (CPAs), based on job postings from USAJobs.gov in January 2011. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants can become CPAs upon meeting state-specific licensure requirements and successfully completing the Uniform CPA Examination administered by the American Institute of CPAs.

Government accountants also may consider voluntary certification as a way to distinguish themselves from their peers. The Institute of Internal Auditors awards the certified government auditing professional credential, which evidences proficiency in government auditing standards and practices through an exam (www.theiia.org). Additionally, the Association of Government Accountants offers the certified government financial manager designation, which requires knowledge of government organization, financial reporting, budgeting and financial management (www.agacgfm.org).

Salary and Employment Outlook

The BLS reported that the average annual salary for accountants who work for government and non-government organizations was $75,280 as of May 2015. For accountants who worked for the local governments, the average salary was $64,370, while those accountants who worked for state governments made an average of $60,270. Employment of accountants and auditors in all industries was projected to increase by 11% from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS.

In May 2015, the BLS reported that the annual mean wage for tax examiners ranged from $46,300 at the local government level to $67,110 for those employed at the federal level. It was also noted that tax examiners could expect to see a 6% decline in job growth during the 2014-2024 period. Accounting and auditing clerks saw an annual mean wage of $38,990 in May 2015; those working for the local government earned $39,340. This group was expected to see an 8% decrease in jobs from 2014 to 2024. Finally, budget analysts employed in any industry realized an average salary of $75,150; for those working for the government, federal budget analysts earned an average salary of $80,230, local government employees averaged $69,740, and those working at the state level earned $65,220, said the BLS.

The duties for government accounting jobs vary depending not just on the professional title, but the level of government. Obtaining the CPA designation requires passing the Uniform CPA Examination and meeting state licensing laws; there is also voluntary certification available for government accountants, offered by organizations like the Association of Government Accountants and the Institute of Internal Auditors. Salaries also depend on the level of government and the specific role, and the BLS reports annual earnings ranging from $38,990 to $80,230 in 2015.

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