Accounting for Uncle Sam: Making a Career in the Government

government jobs

The following content originally appeared It is reprinted with permission of the American Institute of CPAs. Accountemps is an alliance partner of the AICPA. Learn more about our partnership and member discount program.

While it may seem that some of our politicians don’t value CPAs too highly—what with our trillion-dollar deficit and all—the truth is the nation would be in a lot deeper without them. Behind every public policy issue are government CPAs working hard to plan and manage the country’s money (or lack thereof).

Government accounting may not sound glamorous, but look a little deeper and you’ll find all the makings of a great career: unbeatable benefits, high demand, room for growth and a work-life balance that any CPA would envy.

What you’ll be doing

Government is a huge industry, so there’s a wide variety of different paths your career could take as a CPA – starting with your decision to work for either the federal government or in state and local government. From there, you could do any or all of these things:

  • Performance audits. How can an organization—or the entire government, for that matter—work better, faster, and cheaper? When you conduct a performance audit for the government, your job is to make sure taxpayers are getting what they’re paying for.
  • Financial audits. For the health of the business, and because they’re under the public microscope, government agencies and organizations need to make sure their financial statements pass muster. If there are problems, they need to know where their weaknesses are and how to fix them.
  • Compliance audits. Naturally, government entities have to make sure they’re in compliance with all government-enforced rules and regulations.
  • Investigative audits. As with any business, fraud happens in government. And when it does, an investigative audit can help get to the bottom of things.

The view from the inside

Here’s what CPAs typically say about their decision to pursue a government career rather than one in the private sector:

  • Same challenge…The work you do as a government CPA is often exactly the same as what you find in a private company – you’re always facing interesting new challenges.
  • …better hours. Yes, there are plenty of non-government CPA jobs that offer a great work/life balance. But government accounting has a well-known reputation for reasonable hours, giving you more time to enjoy things outside of work.
  • The money’s good. No, really. Don’t assume that a government job is a low-paying job. If you’ve got the skills and a CPA license, expect your salary to be competitive with what you’d be paid in the private sector. And that’s before you add in the benefits.
  • Benefits, indeed. Government benefits are sweet, period. The older (and frailer) you get, the more important this becomes. If you score a job offer from a private company in addition to one from the government, make sure to compare the benefits closely.
  • Doing good. Government CPAs can get a bad rap for working for Uncle Sam. But the truth is, they’re working to make sure taxpayer dollars go further, and that our government is more effective. And that’s a noble mission. In fact, it’s a reason to get excited about coming in to work every morning.

How to make it happen

There are a lot of different paths to a government accounting job. You don’t have to start in government—a lot of CPAs begin their careers in the private sector before deciding that a government gig is right for them.

Your best bet is to get to know some government CPAs. Do some networking. Learn from people who do it every day. And keep an open mind to the patriotic possibilities.