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Public sector and not-for-profit institutions impact, in some way, every citizen in the country. In terms of the dollars that are earmarked for social programs and with regard to the numbers of people dependent on the smooth operation of such programs, there is little question that each of us is very concerned about the financial reporting and controls of these organizations. Government spending and the taxes we are all so aware of are regular news items. Behind the news are thousands of dedicated accountants and auditors assisting in investigations to determine compliance with policies and regulations as well as other essential ac-counting functions. Government waste will be a continuing concern for American taxpayers. Not-for-profit institutions are all around us to provide needed services, including medical research, education, and various cultural and arts organizations. The viability and credibility of these institutions requires the same accounting talents and administrative judgments as the corporate sphere. The career opportunities are there for the accountant challenged by these important responsibilities.

Elected or appointed officials are responsible for determining how well programs are working and if they are meeting the goals for which they were established. The dollars provided by taxpayers or contributors must be spent efficiently. CPAs and other accountants in government and not-for-profit institutions assemble and analyze the data needed to help evaluate these programs.

The federal government employs over 43,300 professional accountants and auditors, about 2,200 of whom are hired each year at the entry levels. In these trainee positions, beginning accountants are closely supervised. As they gain experience, the accountants are given more complex assignments and greater responsibility. Promotions and increased salaries occur as responsibilities increase. The agencies with the largest number of jobs are the departments of the Army (4,100), Navy (2,250), and Air Force (1,950); the Department of Health and Human Services (1,250); the Department of Agriculture (1,240); the Treasury Department (1,225); and the departments of Energy and Transportation (680 each).

Federal accountants are very much in the mainstream of all government activities, and more and more, accountants are participating actively in management decision making. Government agencies must have accurate data in meaningful form for both evaluating the financial results of their activities and planning for the future. Government accounting teams provide the financial services needed to keep agency operations on a firm basis. Some of the job duties of government accountants are:
  • consulting with program officials on financial results of their operations

  • arranging appropriate financial operations for program objectives

  • communicating management's requirements to government organizations and contractors

  • coordinating activities between and within agencies
Some of the federal government departments and agencies having need for accountants and auditors are discussed below.

Department of Interior accountants perform such functions as auditing the accounts of concessionaires operating in the national park system or accounting for the government's royalty share from the production of leased minerals. Some accounting positions in this department require a considerable amount of travel.

Federal Power Commission accountants examine books and records of electric, utility, and gas transmission companies throughout the United States in order to provide reliable financial information that the commission uses to regulate these industries.

The Treasury Department's Bureau of Accountants has a wide range of accounting and auditing positions. Accountants in this bureau examine financial statements from surety companies; do investment accounting for government trust funds; and maintain a system of central accounting and reporting for the government as a whole.

Interstate Commerce Commission accountants and auditors hold challenging positions in the field of transportation. They prescribe and ad-minister uniform systems of accounts for carriers; examine carriers' accounts and operations to ensure compliance with accounting rules and regulations; and examine carrier financial reports filed with the ICC.

The General Accounting Office employs high-quality accounting graduates in auditor positions concerned with financial and management audits. They take part in audits of the departments, agencies, and corporations of the federal government and audit private corporations having government contracts. The federal government is involved in almost every known economic activity, thus the variety and scope of assignments provide unusual breadth of experience for GAO auditors. There are even opportunities for overseas assignments in Europe or the Far East.
Other government accounting positions can be found in any of the following:

Air Force Audit Agency Federal Highway Administration National Credit Union Administration Federal Home Loan Bank Board Internal Revenue Service


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the arm of government responsible for the collection of billions of dollars in taxes. The IRS hardly needs an introduction because almost everyone is familiar with the revenue agent in connection with income taxes.

Accounting graduates are hired by the Internal Revenue Service as trainee revenue agents and internal auditors. IRS agents in approximately nine hundred cities around the country work with corporate executives, accountants, attorneys, business managers, and taxpayers. They examine accounting records and investigate other sources required to determine federal tax liabilities. As IRS agents are given ample opportunity for advancement and professional development through working on progressively difficult cases, supplemented by advanced training in tax law and regulations, they gain valuable experience and greater expertise in resolving complex tax issues. There are opportunities to move into specialized fields such as fraud investigation, internal audit, and evaluation of taxpayers' appeals.

Opportunities in this career field are good. Approximately 2,255 new agents are hired each year at the entry levels. Newly appointed agents enter a training program that prepares them for promotion up to the full-performance level. Supervisory and executive development is also provided for selected agents who demonstrate potential for such positions. A very substantial portion of the top executive positions in the various IRS offices throughout the country are held by persons who began their careers as agents.

The tax auditor talks with taxpayers in the office and corresponds with them to identify and explain tax issues. Beginners in these positions enter a six-month training program consisting of classroom instruction in income tax law, auditing techniques, taxpayer relations, and other subjects. They also receive on-the-job training under the guidance of an experienced tax auditor.


The general entry requirements for accountants and auditors in the federal government are four full years of study in an accredited college or university that satisfy the requirements for a bachelor's degree and include twenty-four semester hours, or the equivalent, in accounting or auditing subjects. Four years of professional accounting experience, a combination of experience and education, or certification as a certified public accountant also meets federal requirements. For auditor positions in the General Accounting Office, at least six hours of accounting and superior academic achievement will qualify, with a major in business administration, engineering, mathematics, statistics, computer science, economics, management, or finance.

GS-5 Requirements

Four full years of study in an accredited college or university that met all of that institution's requirements for a bachelor's or higher degree with a major in accounting; or

Four full years of study in an accredited college or university that satisfied the requirements for a bachelor's degree and included or was supplemented by twenty-four semester hours in accounting or auditing subjects (up to six semester hours of the twenty-four may be in business law); or

Four years of accounting or auditing experience or a combination of education and experience fully equivalent to four years of study as described above, which included one of the following:
  • Twenty-four semester hours in accounting or auditing subjects (up to six semester hours may be in business law); or

  • Certification as a certified public accountant or certified internal auditor obtained through written examination (the certificate number and date and place of issuance must be shown on your application); or

  • Recognized professional stature in accounting based on successful experience in a variety of highly responsible accounting positions and significant documented contributions to the accounting profession through publications, leadership in professional accounting organizations, development of new methods, or comparable achievements.
The same requirements for GS-5 plus at least one year of professional accounting or auditing experience; or one year of graduate study in ac-counting or related fields, such as business administration, finance, or controllership; or any time-equivalent combination of experience with graduate study; or Completion of all requirements for a bachelor's degree (including course requirements) as described for GS-5 and qualification for superior academic achievement; or twelve months of student trainee experience in accounting in a work-study curriculum; or Completion of required twenty-four semester hours in accounting and sufficient experience to qualify for GS-5 plus one year of technical experience equivalent to grade GS-5 or higher.


Practically all civilian positions in the federal government come under the jurisdiction of the United States Civil Service Commission, and, consequently, employees are protected against losing their jobs through changes in political administrations. The commission usually requires successful completion of a written qualifying test to obtain employment; however, for accountants, the test is waived if the applicant is a four-year college graduate with twenty-four semester hours in accounting and directly related subjects.

Accounting applicants receive a notice of rating once their application forms are evaluated; the rating indicates eligibility for hire. Additionally, they are given a numerical score based on their qualifications. Applicants are ranked in a register, along with other eligible candidates, in the order of their numerical scores.

Newly graduated junior accountants and auditors with no experience would probably be hired at a salary of about $16,305 (GS-5) annually. Accountants with a four-year degree and a superior academic record receive a starting salary of about $20,195 (GS-7) annually. An accountant with a master's degree or a bachelor's degree and two years of professional accounting or auditing experience qualifies for a starting salary of about $22,000. Promotions are based on ability and length of service, and federal government development programs give employees an opportunity to expand their abilities and move into higher level positions.

As an employer, the government encourages involvement in professional associations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the National Accounting Association, and also the American Accounting Association.
Information about openings for accountants can be obtained by writing to the United States Office of Personnel Management, Washington, D.C., or by contacting the local Federal Job Information Center in your area. Trained professionals in these offices will mail you the appropriate job announcements, application forms, and pamphlets.


State governments are also made up of many departments and agencies, and they likewise need accountants for a wide range of accounting and auditing work. Positions with state governments are similar in many instances to those with the federal government and include bank examiners, tax auditors, insurance department auditors, unemployment insurance auditors and investigators, and accountants for the state controller's office, public work programs, state-operated institutions, and state-owned and operated business organizations. Information about accounting positions with your state can be obtained by addressing a letter to the particular department, or departments, at the state capital. For example, write to the state banking department relative to a position as a bank examiner or to the department of taxation concerning a position as tax auditor. If your state has a civil service commission, information about various openings can be obtained from it.

The accounting requirements of a municipality will depend on the size of the community and the services it provides. Some municipalities operate utilities and transportation companies, impose income taxes, support hospitals and colleges as well as elementary and secondary schools, and carry on many other activities, all requiring accounting controls and hence accountants and auditors.
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