Government Accounting Jobs Offer A Secure Opportunity But What Are the Trade-Offs?

Government accounting jobs could be a good fit for you, if you are looking for opportunity in a position with a high degree of security.  While no job is totally secure, governments are not subject to the same competitive environment as the private sector.

Regulation, taxation, and financial crime are creating a growing need for accountants at every level of government.

Salaries tend to be lower within government as compared with private enterprise, and that’s a factor to consider. Government accounting jobs (and those in general) usually offer extensive benefits packages and follow an established career path based on seniority as well as merit. 

Depending on your career goals, you may be willing to sacrifice a top salary in favor of the other advantages. So, is a job in governmental accounting right for you?  Let’s explore the opportunity.

What are the Opportunities?

Government accounting jobs are almost as varied as accounting jobs in the private sector.  Traditionally you may think of the General Accounting Office (GAO) or the IRS when you consider governmental accounting.  

You might not realize, though, that almost every department or bureau of the Federal Government has at least a few accounting jobs as a part of its organizational structure.

  • Accountants work with Congress to develop budgets and track financial effects of legislation.

  • Forensic accountants work with the FBI and Department of Treasury to investigate fraud and criminal activity.  

  • Even the Department of the Interior employs accountants to track its use of budgeted funds and the financial impact of initiatives.

State Governments use accountants in similar ways as the Federal Government. 

  • States budget, collect taxes, and spend money.

  • In addition, States have their own need for forensic accounting, financial regulation, and financial planning.

  • States are involved in auditing and regulating commerce.  Most of the personal property transactions, such as real estate purchases, occur at a state level and are regulated by the state.  

When you combine accounting opportunities on a Federal and State level with the needs of local governments and governmental agencies, you start to get an idea of the significant number of government accounting jobs available to you.

Qualifications and Requirements

Before you can qualify for just about any governmental position, including accounting, you must pass a civil service exam.  These exams measure not only your general educational level and aptitude, but also your ability to serve the public and the public interest.

As an employee of the government, you must agree to put the needs and interests of the people you serve ahead of any other factor.  You must also follow a fairly standardized “chain of command” when performing your duties.  The civil service exam is designed to test your ability to perform in this unique situation.

Government accounting jobs require the same level of education as private accounting jobs.

  • A Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting or a business related subject such as Marketing or Management is the minimum requirement for most positions.  A Master’s Degree is recommended.

  • If the position you want is audit related, obtaining your CPA license will help you compete with other candidates.

Take Advantage of Priority Hiring

Governments hire based on education and experience just like other employers.  In addition to the normal factors, however, governments give certain groups priority in hiring.  While a priority status will not help you if you are unqualified, it will give you an advantage among other candidates assuming you meet minimum job requirements.

Priority status was traditionally granted to those who have served the country in some way.  Military veterans and their families, for example, have hiring preference over non veterans.  Recently, however, the government created a priority status to reward high academic achievement.

The Outstanding Scholar Program gives priority application status to individuals who have a 3.45 or higher overall undergraduate grade point average or graduate in the top 10% of their class from an accredited college or university.  In addition, the program places newly hired candidates in a position higher than entry level regardless of experience.

You owe it to yourself to investigate priority hiring.  You may qualify for an advantage based on your academic achievement or some other qualifier.

Government Accounting Jobs – Are They Right For You?

Some individuals are motivated by a strong desire to give back to society. Apart from the obvious benefits of security and a large pension, this is the prime motivation for many who pursue government accounting jobs. 

Life as a civil servant can be very rewarding and compelling. However, you won’t accumulate extreme wealth as a civil servant, but your work will potentially improve the lives of many of your fellow citizens.