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State and local governments are also large employers. There are 50 state governments and over 78,000 local governments employing over 10 million individuals. Approximately one of every five employed civilians works in a government position.
Governments experienced rapid growth in the 1980s. Along with this growth, the number of positions for government accountants has expanded. The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries reports that, approximately 110,000 accountants work for municipal, county, state, and federal governments. Employment in government was expected to increase by 9 percent in the 1990s, with most of the growth in state and local government jobs. In 1995, more than 14,000 accountants worked for the federal government, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Adding auditors and accounting technicians yields a more inclusive total of 46,870 accounting jobs at the federal level.
Newspapers across the nation abound with such reports as “State auditor finds shortage in City of X general fund bank account” and “County Y ended the year with a cash balance of $350,000, but unrecorded carryover bills would have resulted in a deficit of $500,000.”
Good, trained accountants are in great demand in all areas of government. The government hires accountants for regular accounting positions and as auditors. Government accountants examine records of government agencies, businesses, and individuals. Accountants with the federal government may work as Internal Revenue Service agents, investigators, and bank examiners.
If one wants to be an accountant, why work for the government? Sally said, “My parents were foreign-born. I had no opportunity to attend college, but I was very good at math and quick to learn. So I took a civil service test, passed it, and started out as an accounting technician. True, it was the lowest level at which one could start, but I accepted on-the-job training and have been promoted several grade levels. The government is an equal opportunity employer.”
John was a veteran of Vietnam and had several years of accounting in college. “Veterans receive preference on civil service positions, and I wanted the stability, salary, and pension that go with government employment,” he said.
Mark, a college graduate who majored in accounting, had a third reason for working for the government. “My brother, an FBI agent, told me the Internal Revenue Service needed good, inquisitive people. I like working with taxes and with people, and I love to travel. I am very happy as an Internal Revenue Service agent and plan to make a career of it.”
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CAREERS
Our federal government is divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislative branch levies taxes and authorizes expenditures through a budget. The executive branch prepares the budget and carries out the programs. The judicial branch interprets the laws. Accounting functions for the federal government are the responsibility of the executive and legislative branches. Accountants are typically employed within the areas listed in Table 3.1.
About 90 percent of federal employees are covered by a merit system and most of these functions are now handled by the Office of Personnel Management. Approximately 40 states have merit systems patterned after the federal government. Federal positions are classified according to 18 grades (levels) which make up the General Schedule and are referred to as GS grades (see Table 3.2). This grade pay schedule usually is updated in October of each year. The GS rating is based on the quality and extent of education and experience.
The lower grade levels, one through four, contain clerical and technical positions. Grades GS-5 through GS-11 are comparable to lower middle management in industry. Grade level GS-5 has a salary similar to those offered new college graduates by private companies. A GS-5 employee, after one year, has a good opportunity for promotion. The most common entry-level grades for college graduates are GS-5, GS-7, GS-9, and GS-11. Each accounting job description will designate the grade level for that position. Within each grade are pay steps which show the range of compensation possible for competent job performance.
Promotions from one grade to the next are not guaranteed, but many are granted at one- to three-year intervals. The federal government believes that the salaries of its employees should be comparable to those paid by private employers for the same level of work and believes in the principle “equal pay for equal work.” A general practice is to promote from within.
Government accountants perform a variety of duties, including:
- Preparing the nation’s budget.
- Auditing public utilities.
- Reviewing financial conditions of banks.
- Studying the background of bankruptcies.
- Examining the books of stock exchange firms.
- Reviewing amounts spent by the various government agencies.
The following occupations are open to accountants interested in careers with the federal government.
The accounting technician, or bookkeeper, performs a variety of routine duties including keeping journals and ledgers, preparing the payroll, writing cash reports, and updating accounting forms. The technician may use office equipment such as calculators and small computers. Advancement within the same grade level may be to more responsible assignments such as preparing financial statements.
To become an accounting technician, the applicant must take and pass a written civil service test. Salary is dependent upon education and experience. A high school graduate with bookkeeping courses, a business school graduate, or a junior college graduate will start at GS-2, or GS-3. Starting salaries for these two levels in 1997 is given in Table 3.2. With two years’ experience, or with two years of college, the accounting technician will normally start at GS-4 or GS-5. See Table 3.2 for salary information on the GS-4 and GS-5 levels.
The duties of the accountant are:
- To collect and evaluate accounting data.
- To maintain accounting records.
- To establish and revise accounting systems.
- To prepare and analyze financial statements.
- To safeguard and maintain control over assets.
- To maintain cost systems.
- To incorporate a budget into the system.
- To comply with all federal regulations.
Education and diversity of experience will determine the GS rating at which the accountant will enter government service.
GS-5. To enter at the GS-5 level, an applicant normally meets one of the following requirements:
- Four years of accounting in college.
- Three years’ accounting experience.
- An equivalent combination of education and experience.
- A CPA certificate.
The applicant must take and pass a written examination.
GS-7. An applicant can enter at the GS-7 level by meeting the GS-5 requirement plus one year of graduate study in accounting or one additional year’s experience in accounting. The civil service examination must be taken if the experience requirements are not met. The examination need not be taken if the applicant meets the educational or certification requirement.
GS-9. A college graduate with an accounting major or a holder of a CPA certificate qualifies for grades GS-9, GS-11, and GS-12 without taking a written test. Accounting experience of three to five years is required for grade GS-9, and three to six years of experience is required for grades GS-11 through GS-15. Applicants eligible for grades GS-13 and above are exempt from a written test. All others must either take the written test in accounting or meet the experience and education requirements. Refer to Table 3.2 for salary structure. Check with the OPM for the latest requirements (www. usajobs.opm.gov).
The government auditor investigates the accounting records of government units and agencies and renders an opinion to interested users, primarily the federal government.
The federal government requires audits of its grant programs to ensure that the funds are used as specified in the grant. Underwriting and rating agencies ask for audited financial statements from a city that wishes to issue bonds. State and local governmental units that receive certain amounts of federal financial assistance are required to have an independent audit of funds obtained under such programs. Consequently, governmental auditing has become both a professional and a personal challenge. The need for governmental auditors will continue well into the next decade.
Successful auditors possess certain personal qualifications. The auditor must have an analytical mind and be knowledgeable about government accounting principles and methodology. The individual should be able to communicate clearly through oral and written reports. Additional qualities include the ability to handle responsibility, to work with little supervision, and to concentrate on details without overlooking long-range goals. Mental flexibility to quickly absorb facts and make judgments and to work with systems and computers is necessary. The curiosity to ask How? and Why? is valuable. And the auditor must be persuasive and tactful in dealing with people.
Because the auditing field is growing so rapidly, auditors find advancement opportunities early in their careers. Auditors are encouraged to take on more responsible work, which, in turn, qualifies them for promotion to higher grades and higher salary levels. The government offers training programs to help the employee prepare for advancement. A beginning auditor can advance in two to three years. New jobs are created by government legislation, conservation, and pollution. The auditor will conduct reviews of businesses for compliance with the prescribed regulations. A college degree will be required for the future. An auditor may become certified through a test administered by the Institute of Internal Auditors. Certification affirms competence and professional status. (The process of becoming certified is discussed in Chapter 2.)
The 1994 revision of Government Auditing Standards (known as the “Yellow Book”) stipulates specific continuing education requirements for individuals who work on “audits of government organizations, programs, activities and functions.” Auditors responsible for “planning, directing, conducting or reporting on government audits” are required to complete 80 hours of continuing education every two years. At least 24 of these hours should be in subjects “directly related to the government environment and to government auditing.”
Typical audit procedures are applied to evaluate the system of internal control and to test and review the account balances.
Government audits fall into two main categories:
- Financial and compliance audits
- Performance audits, including a) economy and efficiency audits and b) program results audits.
Financial and compliance audits determine whether the financial statements present fairly the financial position and results of operations of the government unit or agency in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and whether the entity has complied with applicable federal laws and regulations. The financial and compliance audit is very similar to an audit rendered by a public accounting firm for an industrial corporation.
An economy and efficiency audit will determine whether the government unit is managing its assets, primarily its people and property, in an economic and efficient manner.
A program results audit determines the fair presentation of the results of various government programs.
Other types of audits help legislative committees during congressional hearings or forecast outcomes of programs. Government accountants sometimes are directed to do highly sensitive investigative work, too.
Auditors are employed by the federal government at the same levels as accountants. Educational and experience requirements and pay scales are the same as those previously discussed for the GS-5, GS-7, GS-9, and GS-11 through GS-15 grades.
Defense Contract Auditor
The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) performs all audits of defense contractors and provides accounting and financial advisory services for the U.S. Department of Defense. In 1996, more than 11,000 businesses were audited, and more than 54,000 audits were conducted.
Salaries for accounting majors or graduates with a degree plus 24 accounting credits start at $20,500 to $25,340. Advancement to senior auditor is possible within three to five years, with salaries from $45,000. DCAA audit experience is credited toward CPA certification, and free CPA review is provided.
The Internal Revenue Service agent examines and audits the accounting books and records of individuals, partnerships, fiduciaries, and corporations to determine their correct federal tax liability. An agent may specialize in one area, such as dealing exclusively with individuals or only with corporations. The IRS audits every kind of business and, therefore, offers an auditor a high degree of client diversity.
An applicant for this position needs four years of college with an accounting major or three years’ experience comparable to four years of college, or any equivalent combination of education and experience, or a CPA certificate. The individual with a college education is rated on his or her academic achievement and the quality and variety of experience. An applicant with experience only must take the written civil service test.
Promotions tend to be based on merit. If the accountant does not wish to travel, positions are available that involve less travel. Often an accountant who has retired from service with the IRS finds tax season employment with the smaller public accounting firms.
An entry position for an Internal Revenue Service agent is at GS-5 or GS-7. The applicant with a college degree in accounting will enter at the higher level.
A revenue officer collects delinquent taxes, investigates business situations, negotiates agreements to satisfy tax obligations, and performs other tasks to safeguard the government’s interests. The revenue officer is essentially a tax collector.
A written civil service exam must be taken and the revenue officer enters government employment at either the GS-5 or GS-7 level.
A securities investigator will examine the books, records, and financial statements of national securities exchanges, over-the-counter brokers, and investment advisers to determine their financial condition and compliance with the law. Fraud cases are investigated.
The applicant must have accounting, auditing, investigative, or administrative experience in the securities field. Education may be substituted for experience. No written test is required. Grade GS-9 requires three to five years’ experience and grade GS-11 requires three to six years. Starting salaries for grades GS-9 and GS-11 are in Table 3.2. The applicant’s GS rating is based on the quality and extent of experience and training.
Special Agent, Internal Revenue Service
A special agent with the Internal Revenue Service conducts investigations of alleged criminal violations of the federal tax laws, makes recommendations with respect to prosecution, prepares technical reports, and assists a U.S. attorney in the preparation of a case and trial.
All of the IRS’s special agents are accountants. Special agents enjoy a great deal of flexibility in their work and may find it extremely satisfying if they like law enforcement combined with accounting.
The work of a special agent may involve a single tax avoidance case, a money laundering investigation, or a complex investigation into drug trafficking. In recent years special agents have served as financial experts in the Federal Organized Crime Strike Force Program and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
The applicant must have three years’ experience and the knowledge of accounting and auditing, or four years of college, including 12 semester hours in accounting, or a law degree. The rating is based on the results of a written test. The entry-level position is at GS-5 or GS-7 level.
The Federal Bureau of investigation is interested in seeking certified public accountants as special Bureau of Investigation agents. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, between the ages of 23 and 35, in excellent physical health, and available for transfer anywhere in the United States. Special agents with law and accounting backgrounds are being sought primarily for the FBI’s continuing battle with white-collar and organized crime. The FBI planned to hire about 640 agents in 1996. Typical assignments of CPA agents might include tracing the flow of funds used to finance narcotics operations; examining political corruption; investigating contamination of consumer products, bank robbery, kidnapping, and extortion.
All special agents are trained at the New Agent’s Training School near Quantico, Virginia. The training consists of a rigorous 15-week course in FBI rules and regulations, investigative techniques, and criminal court procedure. Agents must also become proficient in the use of firearms and defensive tactics.
Applicants undergo a written examination followed by a personal interview and an extensive background check that can take up to six months to complete. Successful applicants begin employment at the GS-10 level, serve a one-year probationary period, and then become a permanent employee upon satisfactorily completing the trial period.
For information, contact the FBI office in the nearest large city.
The tax technician represents the IRS when consulting with taxpayers to identify and explain tax issues and to determine correct tax liabilities.
All applicants must take a written examination. College graduates should have a combined total of 24 semester hours in accounting, business administration, finance, and economics. The tax technician enters government employment at the GS-5 or GS-7 grade level. A government worker with a master’s degree or two years’ experience starts at the GS-9 level.
In addition to the central accounting office of the federal government, certain specialized departments that hire many accountants and deserve separate mention are the General Accounting Office, the federal agencies (departments), and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
General Accounting Office
The GAO, the Congressional watchdog over executive agencies and the internal audit department of the U.S. government, employs over 3,500 individuals many of whom are accountants and auditors. More than half these employees work in Washington, D.C. These accountants and auditors, hired in at the GS levels already explained, review programs of the various federal agencies to ensure against duplication and to evaluate the cost, efficiency, and success of these programs. In addition to audits, they settle claims against the government and collect debts.
The GAO has published numerous small guides on state and local auditing. The U.S. General Accounting Office is headquartered at 441 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20548, with over 20 offices elsewhere in the United States.
Aleen M. Johnson discusses her first year’s experience with the GAO as an auditor. She says:
Working for the GAO involves the expectation of frequently traveling. I have been to state capitals and small towns…. With GAO there is a possibility of being in places you never dreamed of being, such as the time our “office” was in the back room of a county jail…. The periodic change of assignments is the most rewarding benefit of working for the GAO. It has provided an opportunity to learn the operations of various Federal programs, such as those carried out by the Cincinnati office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Treasury Department.1
Collecting data on some aspects of federal funding to local government is a typical experience of GAO regional office auditors, and this is very likely what Johnson was doing at an office in the county jail.
Only part of the responsibilities of a GAO auditor relate to financial auditing. Auditors spend much of their time evaluating the management of federal programs and assessing their effectiveness in meeting program goals.
The major organizational units of the GAO that specifically use the services of accountants and auditors are:
- Policy and Program Planning: oversees that the audit work of the GAO is planned, coordinated, and reported.
- Accounting and Financial Management Division: coordinates automatic data processing, internal auditing, accounting and financial reporting, fraud prevention, and financial statement audits.
- Energy and Minerals Division: provides audit coverage for the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and similar agencies.
- Federal Personnel and Compensation Division: provides audit coverage for the Office of Personnel Management, Selective Service System, and others.
- Field Operations Division: conducts audits throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. About half the GAO’s professional staff is assigned to the regional offices. The field offices are located in:
- General Government Division: provides audit coverage for the Departments of Justice and the Treasury, the District of Columbia government, the U.S. Postal Service, the judicial branch of the federal government, plus various agencies and commissions.
- International Division: provides audit coverage for the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Export-Import Bank, the Office of U.S. Trade, the International Trade Commission, and other organizations.
Agency Auditor Besides the GAO, federal auditors work for various departments and agencies:
- Department of Health and Human Services.
- Farm Credit Administration.
- Department of Defense.
- Department of Agriculture.
- Air Force Audit Agency.
- Army Audit Agency.
- Defense Contract Audit Agency.
- Navy Audit Agency.
- Department of the Interior.
- Federal Power Commission.
- Federal Highway Administration.
- Interstate Commerce Commission.
Each department and agency has a small staff of accountants and auditors. Each year accountants and auditors are hired in at entry-level positions. These federal accountants and auditors evaluate the policies, systems, procedures, records, and reports. They audit contracts with establishments engaged in defense and space work, concessionaires in the national park system, and public utilities, as well as the government’s royalties from production of leased minerals, and the reports of interstate carriers filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Accountant
The SEC seeks applicants for staff accountants at the GS-12 through GS-14 grade levels. The 1997 pay at these levels is given in Table 3.2. The SEC looks for highly qualified accountants for its Division of Corporation Finance, starting at the GS-12 and GS-13 level. They’re in demand at the Division of Corporation Finance where they’ll take on duties such as examining financial statements in public filings and finding solutions to some of the most difficult and controversial accounting issues in American business. A minimum of three years’ experience in a public accounting firm or public company dealing with SEC reporting is required.
Applicants for the GS-14 level position are required to be CPAs and have three years of diversified industrial auditing experience. Accountants at this level may be hired by the SEC’s division of enforcement. Duties include reviewing accounting, auditing, and financial information with respect to SEC investigations and enforcement activities. Notice of these and similar positions are published in The CPA Letter, a semimonthly news report published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and various major national newspapers. Applications can also connect the SEC’s job hotline at (202) 942-4150 to check the web site: www.sec.gov.
A current salary rate chart is shown in Table 3.3.
Summer Employment for Accounting Technicians
Summer employment is generally available for a position known as accounting technician. Each October or November, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issues Announcement 414, “Summer Jobs.” Expected openings for the following summer are listed along with application procedures and filing deadlines. Announcement 414 can be obtained by calling or writing the nearest Employment Service Center. Addresses of those centers are listed at the end of this chapter. Summer months worked will count toward total years of service if permanent employment is later taken with the federal government.
Many agencies hire accountants and auditors at the GS-7 level. Promotion goes to GS-9, GS-11, and GS-12 levels. Excellent performance can lead to a pay increase of almost 80 percent in three years. Because accountants are in short supply in certain areas, such as Washington, D.C, Boston, and Los Angeles, they receive a higher starting wage. In 1989, the GAO implemented a “pay for performance” system in which annual bonuses were awarded to the top 50 percent of the staff.
How quickly an employee is promoted depends upon openings available in the higher grades and upon the employee’s ability. Federal employees receive on-the-job training and participate in career development programs. An employee’s performance is evaluated and rated annually. Competition for the higher positions is keen. Only the most qualified rise to the higher grade levels where fewer positions are available. A disadvantage of government service is lack of competitive salary at the higher grade levels. Higher grade positions with the government usually command a lower salary than the employee could obtain with a job in private industry.
Work Force Reductions Federal government layoffs are called reductions in force. These reductions may be caused by a decrease in work or a cut in appropriations. Whether an employee is retained depends upon security, job performance, veteran preference, and whether the appointment is career, conditional, or temporary. Employees are entitled to unemployment compensation if they are laid off.
Time Off Government employment has a number of benefits. Federal employees earn 13 days of vacation leave a year for the first 3 years and 20 days a year for the next 12 years. After 15 years they are entitled to 26 days of leave each year. Paid holidays are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Employees are entitled to 13 days per year sick leave, which may be used for illness and for doctor and dentist appointments. Unused sick leave may accumulate for future use.
Many agencies have adopted a flexible work schedule that permits employees to work their biweekly 80 hours in fewer days by working 9- to 10-hour days. This allows individuals to arrange their work schedules to fit personal needs.
In response to the needs of working couples and single parents for convenient child care centers, many federal agencies now provide such centers. The GAO also offers child care centers.
Insurance Programs Employees have the usual fringe benefits of life insurance, medical insurance, and retirement pension. The health insurance program offers a choice of plans and provides immediate coverage from the date of enrollment. The life insurance is a basic policy based upon salary and includes three options to increase the amount of coverage and include family members.
The retirement plan provides employees with several options and is portable.
Portability enables a person to leave government service after a minimum number of years and still qualify for benefits.
The retirement program consists of three parts: social security benefits, a basic benefit plan, and a savings plan. For the savings plan, employees may contribute up to 10 percent of their pay, and the government will contribute up to 5 percent. The savings may be invested in a government securities fund, a fixed income fund, or a common stock index fund.
STATE GOVERNMENT CAREERS
Within state government, accountants are employed by the department of audit and control and the department of taxation and finance. Beginning positions are junior accountant, junior auditor, and tax examiner, with promotion to assistant accountant, assistant auditor, senior income tax examiner and senior commodities tax examiner.
Junior Accountant/ Auditor
The junior accountant or auditor works in a state agency whose records are subject to review. Some of the duties of the accountant are to maintain accounting records, supervise clerks who journalize and post, maintain a general ledger, and prepare financial statements.
An auditor, for example, may examine the records of state and local agencies for accuracy and legality, reconcile bank statements, verify financial statements, and review payroll. Prior to the mid-1970s, the auditor was a technician. Today, he or she is a professional who understands government law, public finances, and computers, and adheres to standards of professional performance. State auditors perform financial and compliance audits for many state and local governments.
Both the accountant and the auditor work under supervision. Requirements for these positions are four years of college with 24 semester hours in accounting or an equivalent combination of education and experience. In addition, knowledge of accounting, accountants and auditors need to work well with people, to understand instructions, and to be accurate and neat.
Under supervision, the tax examiner audits tax returns of individuals and businesses either in the office or in the field. The examiner working within the department of tax and finance specializes in one of the following areas: commodities tax, corporate tax, state income tax, state sales tax, or state franchise tax. The commodities tax bureau employs examiners to check the accounting records and inventories of distributors of alcoholic beverages, motor fuels, cigarettes, and so forth. Examiners working in the corporate tax bureau perform such duties as field audits of corporations, verification of corporate tax reports, location of delinquent corporations, and examination of bankruptcies. A tax examiner with a state income tax bureau examines individual tax returns, reviews questionable items, and approves assessments and refunds. For all positions as tax examiner, a college degree with an accounting major or an equivalent combination of education and experience is required. Qualifications are the same as for accountant or auditor.
Salary information and employment opportunities may be obtained by contacting a state’s civil service commission, employment bureaus, and other appropriate agencies. Most state government positions require that the applicant pass written and oral examinations similar to those required for civil service positions with the federal government.
Salaries of state government employees vary widely. Geographic location of the state and the size of the population can make a considerable difference in salaries. A large, densely populated state such as California may pay more than a smaller state. In 1988, beginning state auditors earned from $18,000 to $35,000, and audit managers earned between $24,500 and $67,200.2 Employees work a 40-hour week and are covered by retirement systems.
CITY AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT CAREERS
Most municipalities, counties, and townships of any size are required to keep records in accordance with standards and guidelines established for government units. In addition to the state governments, about 12,000 local governments are required by the U.S. government to have an annual financial and compliance audit.3 An audit opinion is rendered.
Cities that are required to undergo an annual audit, and many others as well, are hiring college graduates with degrees in accounting. They must maintain their records in conformity with state regulations and with recommended government accounting principles and procedures.
A typical city of 500,000 people may have three accounting positions: accountant, staff accountant, and accounts administrator, in ascending order.
Working under general supervision, the accountant performs moderately difficult work in the classification, analysis, and reporting of financial data. Technical supervision may be provided for clerical personnel.
Duties of the accountant include maintaining accurate books of original entry and subsidiary ledgers; the preparation of journal entries, postings, trial balances, and reports; and periodic examination of receipts, warrants, purchases, vouchers, payroll records and billings to ascertain that transactions and documents are prepared according to established procedures. The accountant ensures that internal checks and balances are operating efficiently; makes recommendations for modifications in accounting and office forms and procedures; and audits cash receipts, ledgers, journals, and inventories.
The National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers, “Auditing in the States: A Summary,” Lexington, Kentucky, 1989.
3The Council on Municipal Performance, “An Introduction to Professional Auditing for Public Officials” (New York, 1979), p. 3.
The accountant must possess a broad knowledge of government accounting principles, practices and procedures; auditing; electronic, financial, and accounting systems; business administration procedures; and general office procedures.
Educational requirements are graduation from an accredited college with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting, and one year of professional accounting experience.
For 1997, the average annual salary for the position of accountant was $27,574 to $36,766.4
The staff accountant supervises accounting work that involves major accounting and fiscal operations. He or she also develops and installs accounting systems and controls.
Examples of the duties performed are:
- Application of accounting principles to install, develop and maintain the accounting system.
- Supervision of accounting work for a particular accounting function of considerable size and complexity.
- Supervision of the installation of accounting controls.
- Setting up ledgers, journals, and reporting procedures.
- Assigning account codes and classifications to transactions.
- Implementing changes to improve efficiency or control.
- Preparing detailed financial analyses or projects, proposals, and federal reports.
- Providing accounting information and financial advice to the administrative staff as requested.
Considerable knowledge is required of accounting principles, practices and procedures of government accounting; of electronic, financial, and accounting information systems and of business administration procedures. Supervisory skills in handling personnel are needed. Skill in analyzing financial data, in developing and installing accounting systems and controls, and in preparing reports is necessary.
Description of position provided by the Toledo Civil Service Commission, Toledo, Ohio.
Educational requirements are a bachelor’s degree in accounting from an accredited college or university and four years of professional accounting experience. A master’s degree in arts or business administration and one year of professional accounting experience may be accepted in lieu of the four years of professional accounting experience.
For 1997, the annual salary for a staff accountant averaged $30,650 to $40,867.5
The accounts administrator provides professional assistance and guidance to the accounting personnel in the areas of accounts payable, accounts receivable, budget control, payroll, and data entry. He or she also resolves special projects and problems.
The accounts administrator supervises the following systems:- accounts payable system, vouchers systems, accounts receivable system, budgeting, payroll, and data entry in the electronic data processing system. The administrator also bears the responsibility for overseeing the general administrative duties for the division. In addition, the administrator prepares cost distribution reports, provides assistance to other departments regarding accounting-related problems, and prepares a variety of complex reports and analyses.
Considerable knowledge of automated accounting systems and of business administration procedures is required. Skills are needed in office procedures and techniques, in supervising personnel, in identifying and analyzing problems and resolving them and in oral and written communication.
A bachelor’s degree in accounting from an accredited college or university plus five years of accounting experience are required. A master’s degree in business administration and two years of professional accounting may be accepted in lieu of the five years of professional accounting experience.
Annual salary for this position in 1997 was approximately $34,698 to $46,264.6
In a typical city of 500,000 inhabitants, all three municipal accounting positions would be under the municipal civil service commission, which is usually similar to the federal system. Cities have their own civil service examination which conforms to the requirements of the accounting positions required by the municipality.
Salaries of city and local government employees vary according to the geographic locality and population of the government unit involved. The employees work a 40-hour week and are covered by a retirement system. They are entitled to sick pay and vacation pay. Salary information and employment opportunities may be obtained by contacting the appropriate local civil service commission.
Description of position provided by the Toledo Civil Service Commission, Toledo, Ohio.
In 1990, an Ohio village advertised in a newspaper for a director of finance with municipal government. The ad requested an experienced financial manager to serve as chief fiscal officer. Duties included directing an automated accounting system, debt management, insurance administration, inventory functions, financial forecasting, financial and statistical reports, and assistance in annual budget preparation.
To fulfill this position, the applicant needed an accounting degree, experience in government or public accounting and electronic data processing experience. A certified public accountant was highly desirable. The salary ranged in the low $30,000s and was negotiable. The city of Toledo, by contrast, paid $56,500 to $87,500 for its financial director position in 1997.
Advancement in responsibility and salary is available within local governmental units. Advancement also may be from one municipal government to the same position with a larger city. To do this, the accountant must be willing to relocate.
CIVIL SERVICE (OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT)
Civil service is the name given to the government departments that are not part of the military service. Civil service includes most non-elective, non-policymaking positions for the federal, state, county, or city governments. Employment positions and promotions are obtained through a system of competitive examinations, called the merit system. Under the merit system an individual must prove he or she is qualified for employment in the government service. Civil service was established in 1883 when Congress passed the Pendleton Act. Civil service replaced the spoils system, which rewarded individuals with government jobs as payment for favors done for a political party.
The federal government alone has approximately 100 agencies. State and local governments have many more. Each of the different agencies has positions with similar duties. These positions are grouped into one classification for which an examination may be given. Thus, a person applying for staff accountant for a Department of Agriculture agency will take the same exam as one applying for staff accountant with the Department of Health and Human Services.
The functions of the Civil Service Commission, headquartered in Washington, D.C., are now handled by the Office of Personnel Management. Area offices exist throughout the United States. Regional offices are listed in Table 3.4. Your local area office will be listed in the telephone book under “United States Government.” You may either call or write to ask about opportunities in the nation and in your area. These offices maintain a Federal Employment Service Center which will have information about current positions available, overseas employment, job requirements and qualifications, and examination procedures. At the end of this chapter is a list of all Federal Employment Service Centers, along with their addresses in the United States, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
The Civil Service Commission was abolished January 1979. Its functions are now handled by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Job opportunities with a state government can be determined by contacting the nearest state employment service office. Or it is possible to write the state civil service commission in the capital city of the state. Many large cities will have a civil service commission. Other sources of information are the municipal building and the public library.
To apply for a position under civil service, request an application form and the job announcement that gives the title and describes the duties and salary. Federal application forms are standardized. Apply to the agency. State and city forms may differ from area to area.
Filling out the form is critical. An applicant is judged only upon the neatness and the information on the application. Every question must be answered even if the area is marked “None” or “Not Applicable.” If any spaces are left blank, the form is returned for the applicant to supply the missing information. This of course delays the filing of the application.
The federal government requires that an applicant be 18 years of age. No maximum age is stated; however, only temporary renewable appointments are given to persons over 70.
In the block asking for the pay or grade desired, it might be better to enter the grade level because rates change annually.
Under experience, every position held should be listed starting with the most current one and working backwards. Give title, employer’s name and address, dates of employment, salary, and a complete job description, listing all duties performed. Volunteer work, or any other unpaid experience that is pertinent, can also be described in the experience block.
The application contains a section asking for special qualifications and skills. Here you can enter skills such as writing and publishing, public speaking, photography, and machines worked with, computer and audio equipment, for example.
The block for education can include not only formal education, but workshops and seminars attended. Describe the course content, the length of time and when and where the seminars were held.
As references, give the names of teachers, coworkers, and friends who are in a position to evaluate your work. (Ministers and doctors may know a little about your professional qualifications and ability to fulfill a certain position.) The reference should not be a relative or a present supervisor. The supervisor will be contacted.
Written Test You will receive notification of when and where to report for the test. Applicants are advised to go to the public library and obtain the most current book on how to study and prepare for the civil service test. Study the material and become proficient on the subjects that will be covered. On competitive exams, all applicants compete with one another. The higher your examination grade, the better your chance of being appointed. There are no fees charged to take any of the tests. The tests may be retaken, although some are given infrequently. If you pass the test with a grade of 70 or higher, your name will be place on a list from which appointments are made.
Veterans’ Preference Ten extra points will be added to the applicant’s test score if he or she is a disabled veteran or the wife of one, a widow of certain veterans, or a widowed or divorced mother of a veteran who died in service or of one who is totally and permanently disabled. Most other honorably discharged veterans receive a five-point bonus. A disabled Vietnam veteran receives 15 points. On any exam, a grade of 70 must be made before the preference points are added. The policy of veterans’ preference dates back to the Civil War and predates the first Civil Service Act (1883).
Neale Baxter, Opportunities in Government Service (Lincolnwood, 111.: VGM Career Horizons, 1979), p. 103.
When an agency has a position to fill, under the “rule of three,” the Office of Personnel Management sends three names. The names are those having the top three total points, including veterans’ preference. From among these three an appointment will be made without regard to race, color, religion, politics, or sex. A physical handicap will not prevent a person from being hired if it does not interfere with the required duties.
An investigation will be made of the applicant’s character, reliability, and trustworthiness. He or she will be asked to swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. His or her fingerprints will be taken and checked against the FBI records. Any intentional false statement, doubt about U.S. loyalty, or criminal conduct may prevent a person from getting the appointment.
RIGHTS OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
Government employees retain most, but not all, of their rights as citizens. Any abridgement of rights may differ by locality, by agency, or by job. For example, a city may require a municipal employee to live within the city limits. Teachers may or may not have the right of collective bargaining and unionization. An employee may be required to have a valid driver’s license.
Citizenship is generally required for federal employment, but not necessarily for state and local government employment. There are exceptions, and citizenship may be required for certain positions.
Under the Hatch Act, “no officer or (federal) employee shall take any active part in political management or political campaigns.” Specifically, a federal employee may not run for or hold office in any partisan political organization. Nor can a federal employee solicit funds for a political party. The Hatch Act particularly applies to partisan politics. A federal employee may seek a nonpartisan office and be more active in nonpartisan elections.
In 1974, Congress exempted state and local employees from many of these restrictions. A state or local employee may not run for or serve as a party candidate for elective public office. Most other political activities are no longer forbidden. Some states, counties and cities have adopted similar policies.
‘Robert O’Neil, The Rights of Government Employees (New York: Avon Books, 1978), p. 74. l0Ibid., p. 75.
Freedom of Speech
In reviewing the contracts for the C-5A airplane, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a cost accountant, discovered and disclosed a cost overrun of $2 million. He was fired in 1970 allegedly for economy reasons. He sought review through civil service. It took six years and a $3.5 million lawsuit to regain employment, recover back pay, court costs, and other expenses.
To what extent does a government employee have the right to criticize government policy? Government interests may restrict complete freedom. Public employees, especially accountants, may have access to highly sensitive information. Various court cases have imposed some restriction on freedom of speech.
A government employee may be required to answer questions about his or her private life. The questions must be legitimate and relate directly to the job or position. They may pertain to the applicant’s associations (organizations) if there are questions about loyalty to the U.S. government. The questions may relate to past criminal activity. A traffic violation would be inconsequential; however, theft or fraud would be a different matter. A government employee’s federal income tax returns are subject to audit. No guideline exists to define a governmental employee’s conduct off the job.
The Future of an accountant or auditor working for government can experience challenges as diverse as the government itself. Governmental accounting is a major alternative to public accounting for the person who is committed, seeks responsibility, and is self-motivated. The government accountant and auditor can feel that he or she is making personal contribution in finding ways to improve government operations and the services provided to citizens.
There is a need for qualified accountants in government. A qualified person can have career opportunities. There is a track record of promoting from within. This provides the opportunity to move quickly into challenging positions.
A large number of government employment opportunities for accountants are also projected for the future. This will be increasingly true also at the local level as cities and counties develop more sophisticated accounting and reporting systems.